In the late 2000s, indie-rock was on the rise. Hailing from Oxford and having formed in 2005, Foals were primed to be at the helm of the increasing movement in the UK. Shoegaze and experimental rock had long been genres enjoyed in the country — and around the world — but a smooth-rock, far-cry-from-pop kind of new music era was beginning.
Headed by the buoyant, cherished-by-crowds Yannis Philippakis, Foals had the killer ingredient with him as their vocalist. And when joined with the rest of the band, Jack Bevan, Jimmy Smith and Edwin Congreave (past members being Andrew Mears and Walter Gervers), you get an effervescent outfit who have cultivated a distinctive niche of math rock to rival Vampire Weekend. The gents who assembled as Foals were in former groups and studying at university at the time, though, when they came together, it was abundantly clear that their paths were linked and careers were going in the musical direction.
2007 saw Foals propel themselves onto the scene with two huge singles, ‘Hummer’ and ‘Mathletics’ — the former being a hit that enjoyed airtime on the old favourite Channel 4 show, Skins. They served as precursors to the wildly popular debut album ‘Antidotes’, which dropped in 2008. Originally, the record had been crafted with assistance from TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, but Foals decided to reject his mixed efforts in favour of their own prior to its release.
The band allegedly worked from late afternoon until dawn the next day as a pattern, honing the sounds of each song on ‘Antidotes’. The effortlessly catchy hooks, palm-muted riffs and off-beat drumming all went down swimmingly with eager indie listeners. The deep-seated melancholia of the tracks were juxtaposed with fresh, uptempo melodies. The energy of ‘Cassius’ and buzzing thrums of feisty guitar licks and chords throughout ‘Balloons’, ‘Two Steps, Twice’ and ‘Red Socks Pugie’ stand as the main reasons I became an instant fan of the album.
Foals’ members themselves noted that it’s the ‘tropical’ vibes and prog rock elements that underpin their sophomore record, ‘Total Life Forever’. The beauty of the softer riffs and warming melodies retracted some of the natural funk flair of their debut and shaped their output to create absolute tunes such as ‘Spanish Sahara’ — which was the massive hit — as well as ‘Miami’, ‘Blue Blood’ and ‘Black Gold’. I fondly remember this album as one of the soundtracks to summer 2010. These are the songs I continued to rinse for months, so they still have an undying familiarity upon listening again now.
Crossing into alt rock territory
For me, Foals’ third album, ‘Holy Fire’, was when the outfit started to contort their original design musically and change things somewhat. It’s only natural that bands play around with genres, and this is when I can best pinpoint what sounded like a shift. While ‘My Number’ retained the indie blueprint, the more raucous ‘Inhaler’ demonstrated an unleashing within the band. But, the slight alterations in sound here and there really worked — the album was nominated for a Mercury Prize the same year.
It’s said that it was back in early 2014 that the band decided to retreat to their old Oxford haunts and start writing afresh. Whatever they did had a wonderful effect, because it spawned the anthemic ‘Mountain at My Gates’. It was incredibly well received by fans and moguls in turn, and it ended up soaking up a spot on the FIFA 16 soundtrack.
‘What Went Down’ landed in 2015, which probably remains by least favourite among the Foals back catalogue. But things were on the up — at least in my opinion. In spite of bassist Walter Gervers’ departure from the band in early 2018, the resolute members picked themselves off the floor, dusted themselves off and cracked on nicely. Between releasing ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost — Part 1’ and the later ‘Part 2’, they put on a storming performance at Glastonbury last year. It was almost riotous (from what I saw on the highlights), with ‘Black Bull’ being the most thunderously epic and powerful ballad to tear up the wanting crowd. And, in tandem with that particular hit, I challenge you to defy how fantastic the electronics-peppered ‘On The Luna’ and ‘In Degrees’.
All in all, from their chords to their band members, full-throttle indie-meets-math rock to rough-and-ready alt rock, Foals stand strong and proud as a musical team that’s shown enviable progression. I can’t wait to hear what they deliver to us next.