Album review: Foals redeem themselves with 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1'
After the lukewarm release of 2015's 'What Went Down', the Oxford band return with a near perfect album, a confident step in a new direction, but not far away from their roots.
Foals have built a reputation for themselves as one of the most electrifying rock acts of the last decade. Ever since their smash hit math-rock debut 'Antidotes' in 2008, they have led the crusade to make guitar-driven music relevant again.
After a hat-trick of eargasm-inducing albums, the Oxford-based outfit probably missed their step for the first time in 2015 with 'What Went Down', which received a mixed response from fans and critics. Four years later, the indie rock heroes are back to redeem themselves with not one, but two new albums.
After garnering a massive wave of hype with the release of three early singles, Part 1 of the ominously titled 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost' is finally out and there's no doubt that Foals have more than redeemed themselves with a fresh approach to their sound that's still not entirely divorced from their math-rock roots.
While it might not have the sheer urgency of their debut or the larger than life sound of 'Total Life Forever', but there's no denying that the new album is right up there with some of the best work Foals have produced.
The album opens with the ambient mood setting track 'Moonlight'. As far as album openers go, Foals have usually opted for the frantic energy and urgency that underlines their best music. But with 'Moonlight', Foals stray from the status quo, kickstarting proceedings with steadily building swells and atmospheric arrangements. It serves as a palate cleanser after 'What Went Down,' and points to the fresh offerings on the table.
It's slightly reminiscent of the opening of their 2013 LP 'Holy Fire', which opened with the steadily swelling 'Prelude' before launching into the ultra groovy 'Inhaler'.
The final notes of 'Moonlight' make way for the lead single 'Exits', which still manages to stay fresh on the ears in spite of heavy-rotation since first push play almost two months ago.
It also forms the backbone of the album - the closest thing you would arrive at if you were to condense the full 39-minute album into one track.
Uncharacteristically political and grim in its paradigm, the very first set of wonky piano chords that open the song prepares us for a dark and fractured world.
The hard-hitting riff is complemented by subtle synth work and also showcases the deliberately intricate guitar work that Foals are so famous for.
Frontman Yanis Philippakis holds a mirror to the dystopian current morass, painting a grim world with imageries of "no birds left to fly", "cities underground" and "flowers upside down".
Addressing issues ranging from political polarization to climate change to fear of an Orwellian surveillance states, the song has a sense of urgency and immediacy that permeates most of the album.
The first half of the album is generally sprightly, with an upbeat tempo that makes it impossible not to tap your feet along.
The first propulsion in that tempo comes via 'White Onions', a song composed on a loop pedal full of elaborate guitar flourishes - very trademark Foals. Jack Bevan's thumping, high energy drum work propels the track towards the dance-friendly side of Foals, which is reinforced in 'In Degrees', which is self admittedly "the danciest thing" Foals have ever attempted.
Infused with elements of techno, the track is a dance-floor ready banger and is sonically the farthest from Foals' entire body of work, although it ends with a choral chant towards the end, reassuring Foals fans they have't strayed too far from the motherlode.
In contrast, 'Syrups' starts off with a slightly slower, funk-heavy groove laid out on a thumping bassline. 'Everything Not Saved... Part 1' is the first album to drop after the band's original bassist Walter Gervers quit and one can't help but wonder how masterfully he would have handled this lovely bassline.
As Foals set off on their massive tour, the responsibility of rendering the bassline faithfully live falls upon Jeremy Pritchard, of the British band Everything Everything. Yet again, just like 'In Degrees', the song closes with a familiar Foalsy choral chant, this time reminiscent of 'Providence' from 'Holy Fire'.
The last of the high-tempo tracks is 'On The Luna', which was the second single to drop from the album. The song sees Foals walk a tightrope between their older, guitar-driven sound and their more recent electronic leanings to produce some infectiously catchy hooks and an addictively dancey beat. There's another rare political reference in this track as Philipakkis complains about "Trump clogging up my computer".
The closest to a misstep on the album is 'Cafe d'Athens', in parts because it's the first song where the band steps off the gas pedal and slows down their relentless dance-punk assault.
The opening riff seems to have been borrowed from the 'Antidotes' era, but instead of gathering steam, the track experiments with xylophone and vibraphone flourishes, which add interesting sonic textures to the song but do nothing to make the song stick in your head.
The choice to add the 44-second mood-resetter 'Surf, Pt 1' is an interesting one. The minimalist track provides breathing space as the album gallops to its end.
As the name suggests, the brief reprise will have a complementing second part in the second instalment of 'Everything Not Saved...' which is set to arrive sometime this fall. Keen-eared fans will recognize 'Surf' as the actual first taste from the album, as it was the audio accompanying the very first teaser clip from Foals that announced the new album.
Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost— FOALS (@foals) January 9, 2019
'Surf' is clearly a deliberate marker that tells the listener that the tempo and tone of the album is about to shift. But the transition is not forced as the album neatly flows into the four by four shuffle of 'Sunday'. Like 'Exits', this song also encompasses some of the major lyrical themes of the album, taking a dark and melancholic tone through the first half of the song. The second half of the song bursts into a free-flowing jam that was inspired by 90s dance music acts from the UK like Underworld and Leftfield. It's sure to provide a lot of firepower to Foals' live sets and give the band a lot to work with, especially considering their raw live energy and improvisational antics.
The album closer is the curiously titled 'I’m Done with the World (& It’s Done with Me)', which was reportedly penned by Philippakis on a strange autumn day when a fox got trapped on top of his shed and the RSPCA said they couldn't help with the situation!
Centred around a melodic piano arrangement, the song is the only real slow-burner on the album and feels like a melancholic dirge that tapers off into a cliffhanger, teasing the arrival of 'Part 2' of the double album.
Always wary of the double album shtick, Philippakis has admitted that the spacing between the two releases was deliberate in order to give fans some time to fully absorb each record. He also noted that while Part 1 leans toward a new-wave/ electronic sound, the second part "goes for the jugular with more ferocity." If Part 1 was supposed to be the softer of the two records, it wouldn't be wrong to get one's hopes even higher for the kill shot set to drop this fall.