Foals What Went Down Warner Bros
Foals have always been a strikingly capable band. They haven’t just won over fans on the basis of what they do – there has always been a conversation about what they might do. Always on the brink of sprawling angular rock chaos, reined in by a penchant for buoyant pop singles. It’s never been clear which direction they should steer towards but there’s been a belief that when they left the crossroads, they’d be headed for the history books.
For What Went Down, they’ve maintained the balancing act. Like the pair of singles that preceded Holy Fire, we’ve been teased with a super-charged, howling epic in the form of the title track and a hook-heavy follow-up in the form of Mountain At My Gates. It’s a tried and tested formula – one song dicing with titanic main stage destruction and another custom-built to soundtrack a montage of all the great work Children In Need does.
When the flashes of decisiveness do appear on What Went Down, they show a band far from finished. Night Swimmers climaxes in a commotion of drum machine skitters and afrobeat syncopations; a kind of elevated model of the math-rock blueprints of their debut. The closer, A Knife In The Ocean, might be up their with some of their best work, Yannis Philippakis’s vocals awash with rich, theatrical instrumentation in the only song that nears the seven-minute mark.
According to interviews, the band planned to take a longer period of time off after Holy Fire but when they went in to the studio something “clicked”. That story is plausible – Foals aren’t on autopilot here. The raw aggression is present and the songs live up to the standards you might expect from one of the country’s biggest bands. There’d be a temptation to celebrate this record for that very reason and repeatedly praise the band for doing what they do so brilliantly and consistently. But for as long as we’re lauding them as they are, we’ll be wondering what they could be.