By: Lance Turner
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Released on August 28, 2015 via Warner Music
Not to discount efforts of Foals, but I am just not feeling it. At best it is underwhelming. There were more notable moments than not, but overall I am still left unfulfilled. Perhaps my sonic eyes are closed, but I just can’t identify. I’ve pushed forward with multiple attempts at listening in several different environments: with both steadfast listening and also pressing play while performing other tasks in hopes that something might just strike me in a more subconscious or organic manner. I could only soulfully connect to one or two songs. They were better off cherry picking a few songs and releasing an EP….. Those were my earliest thoughts from listening to Foals’ latest release What Went Down.
Having not previously been a fan, or encountered their music at all, I did my best to listen earnestly without bias or prejudice. My further intrusion into their musical past returns an improved perception on my part. Although, not inducing anything close to catharsis, it has deepened my understanding of a style that is not easily defined. In that alone I can appreciate their output through a different lens. For a band signed to a major label such as Warner anything other than a full length record would be inconceivable, but the following would have been my choices for an EP. As for everything else, I can take it or leave it.
‘Mountain At My Gates’ is a track that immediately gets your body moving and your mind groovin with super catchy hooks and vocals. There is of course the notion of searching for strong traction, but deliberately perpetuating a journey of ups and downs. Certainly a radio friendly piece pressing on with vigor without the watered down authorship found in most pop music. ‘Give It All’ opens up with synths and a muted beat keeps up the momentum a few measures later. Vocal ‘ooohs’, rising electronic effects, and drums all lend a very grandiose texture. The lyrics appear as a study of opposites that concludes with the sense of loss caused by choice and unwillingness to deal with the ‘cons’ regardless of the ‘pros’. A shoo-in for my favorite track. ‘Snake Oil’ adapts glitchy effects that are supported by bouncy percussion, and a guitar riff/bassline of the same flavor. Pleasantly erratic with a crunchy distortion, it could easily be placed into the soundtrack of an American steampunk western movie bearing the same name. Clearly providing the score for an elaborate chase or fight scene. Think Bladerunner mixed with From Dusk Till Dawn, and a little Mad Max. Nuff said. ‘Lonely Hunter’ is a fine pop laced addition. Swirling guitars and rhythmic bass wrap up a universally agreeable sound that will surely entice the masses. It is somewhat anthemic, and will most likely occupy sing-a-long status for the droves of fans attending music festivals in the future. Even though the lyrics are decidedly darker than the happy-go-lucky sound the song expresses. ‘A Knife In The Ocean’ may seem redundant, but still deserves honorable mention. Mild guitar delays and an unchanging drum beat enable an unbroken pace which sets the stage for later dynamics. These are found in the vocal delivery, gravity of the lyrics, and additional electronic effects erupting throughout each chorus.
Those who are already fans of Foals will indeed enjoy this release. Those who are not, I urge you not to immediately hinder your awareness to music that may not be up your alley. As it was only my conforming to prior experience that prevented me from hearing flashes of skill in composition. After listening to their complete discography, Foals seem to be a band that has clung to their mission statement of staying true to a sound of personal inspiration. However, that mission may just be lost on me. There are a few profound, but brief, moments of lyrical genius and clever arrangements. Although, taken as a whole and compared to earlier releases, What Went Down appears to have a very Stepford Wife feel and likely best suited for musical markets overrun with minions of “radio” listeners who will just take what they are given without searching for depth. Amidst all this apparent criticism I will say that Foals do blend electronic and analog elements very well. And for the sake of my own open-mindedness, I hope for more impassioned music to come.