Foals, ‘Holy Fire’ (Warner Bros.)
Release Date: February 12, 2013
Label: Warner Brothers
If I told you there was a band that combined the wacky percussive synths of Bananrama with the unhinged distorto-flourishes of Jane’s Addiction and the rhythmic geekery of the Police, you’d be fucking stoked, right? Actually, no! Of course you wouldn’t be, because that doesn’t sound cool at all! It may sound kinda awesome, but it doesn’t sound “cool.” Such is the genius and misfortune of Foals.
For more than five years, Foals have either benefited or suffered from a certain clumsiness w/r/t the Zeitgeist, which has seemingly doomed them to rock’s second or third tier. Just look at where they sit on this year’s Coachella lineup: They’re in Saturday’s fourth row, sandwiched between Ben Howard and (wait for it) Dropkick Murphys. Why is this? Here’s some theories. No. 1: They’re from Oxford. In 2008, while bands with not even a third of these guys’ chops were getting hella reblogs in Greenpoint, Foals were scarfing down fish and chips and using words like “knackered.” No bueno. No. 2: They wear their guitars too damn high, like those kids in the jazz band. No. 3: In places, they don’t not echo the multicultural eclecticism of, say, General Public or, worse, Spyro Gyra — i.e. they’re geeks but not outcasts, rockers but not rock stars. That’s the kind of shit that dooms you to that festival fourth line. I’m not sure how Foals feel about any of this, but it’s a boon to their fans: The band puts out consistently awesome albums, but you can still see them in rock clubs. That shreds.
Take their third album, Holy Fire: It shreds. The thing kicks off with “Prelude,” which is an actual prelude (total geek move), before the one-two punch of “Inhaler” and “My Number.” The former delivers Foals’ signature (and epic) pointillist guitar riffing before exploding into a brain-freezing Jane’s-esque chorus; the latter contrasts that perfectly with an alt-disco brio that sounds like Blondie and Men at Work rehearsing in adjacent rooms. (Foals do not get enough — any? — credit as a dance-floor band, and I don’t mean that in the sneering, shitty sense that people mistook Franz Ferdinand for a dance-floor band. The difference is, instead of writing songs about dancing, these guys write songs that make you want to dance.) Elsewhere, in an echo of their stirring 2010 highlight “Spanish Sahara,” there’s “Late Night,” which takes its time layering inky synths and keening vocals as it crescendos to a soaring finale.
Those are the highlights, and they’re so high that they make the other stuff here seem middling by comparison, though the cheeky synths of “Out of the Woods” or the meandering atmospherics of “Stepson” would probably sound swell on any random Brooklyn band’s album, and be praised accordingly. Here, they just sound like underachievements. This is Foals’ fault only in the sense that they’ve set the bar so ridiculously high for themselves — so high, in fact, that it’s over a lot of people’s heads.