I don’t know if it’s a compliment or an insult – it’s really just a pointless sentence – but this is how I’d sum up Foals’ latest album: it sounds a lot like a Foals album. Ok, maybe it’s a bit heavier, but the whole thing feels a bit like when you get Chicken Katsu Curry at Wags, then think, “Ah, I should have got something different this time”.
The Oxford six-piece have risen quickly since their formation ten years ago. If someone asked me for a modern archetype of indie rock, I might well play My Number. Their material is generally varied, but with a definite sound – you basically hear it in every bar/pub you go to these days.
This is a good album. But it’s not great and therefore it’s really disappointing. It’s not that I wanted the group to fly off the rails and produce some freaky experimental album full of tracks with cryptic names, but a little more excitement would have been nice.
If you want the general feel of the album, you only really need to listen to the first two tracks. What Went Down, the opener, immediately gave off more attitude than songs of theirs in the past, but it quickly grew repetitive and overly familiar – not necessarily resembling their own previous work, but often reminiscent of, maybe, a lesser-played Kasabian piece. Following this comes Mountain At My Gates (these two make up the pre-released singles). It’s very typical of their style and the whole Reading/Leeds vibe that they encapsulate. That being said, it’s good to listen to and it’s got a great, catchy element to it.
Now we move into my favourite region of the LP – excluding Give It All, which I thought might be in the same vein as Spanish Sahara, but turned out to be a bit of a flop. The next four songs were the most interesting to me.
Birch Tree immediately shows that Foals have noticed what people like these days – or at least that they agree with current taste trends – opening with a summery assortment of keyboard notes. The vocals work nicely with the instrumental, and the song is just pleasant to listen to, though towards the end it gets an extra infusion of pop that takes things a little too far, I think.
The best balanced song on the LP is Albatross. It’s fast-paced, instrumentally, but Philippakis’ alluring vocals stop things being too chaotic. When the drums come to the fore, you realise you’re listening to an excellent composition of rock music. The band pumps the gas and slows back down at just the right moments.
The last song I’ll mention is Snake Oil, which rounds off the best subset of tracks. It opens with a strange whirring alongside a metallic clunking noise. Philippakis starts wailing into the mic. The guitar becomes more pronounced and hey presto we’re into the middle of a proper rock anthem. This is the sort of music that’s best served piping hot in a basement club with cheap beer and loads of big hairdos. I’d say this is the most refreshing song on the album – it retains some of Foals’ charm, but also kind of gives you the finger.
There are a few more songs on the LP but, honestly, they’re a bit same-y and half-hearted. I’ll definitely be listening to a bunch of songs off this album in the next week or so, but in previous works, Foals have given me something to binge on. When you’re Foals and you’re massive and your gigs probably cost just a little too much to go to most of the time, you get a harsher lens. This album isn’t their best – fingers crossed the next one still could be.