Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Album Review: Foals - Holy Fire

Holy Fire
Rating: Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It

Three albums in for British post-punk, art pop band Foals finds them in a curious place. From the spiky guitars and jerky rhythms of Antidotes to the more streamlined and atmospheric Total Life Forever, there has always been a push and pull between the bands more experimental tendencies and their more populist leanings. This tension created some lovely music and put them on the hot list for future success. In fitting with their move to a major label, new album Holy Fire enlists heavy hitter producers Flood and Alan Moulder (Depeche Mode, U2, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins) to add more polish and sheen to their sound. On first listen there is a more dynamic and spacious sound to the record, but no real change in their direction. In fact, Holy Fire sounds like a lusher, denser Total Life Forever, which is not a bad thing per se, it just means there is a slight lack of surprise here. TLF was a huge leap in progress from Antidotes that this new album held the same expectations for me. Holy Fire is nice lateral move, full of excellent tracks, but gets bogged down with bad pacing and too many tracks that lean towards more atmosphere rather than hooks and melodies. Despite these reservations I have with the record, Foals have definitely shown they are ready for their headlining spotlight.

There are so many arena ready tracks here, you can almost hear the crowd roars in between them. Seriously, if you are not out of your seat and dancing to single "My Number" you need to check into a hospital. Tight rhythms, soaring synths, and punchy guitars make this the standout track on the album and one of the most infectious tracks of the year.

And when Holy Fire sticks to this type of more driving motion, it soars like no other record this year. A steady rising stream of interlocking guitars, skittering drums, strings, and keyboards highlights the dramatic push of "Milk and Black Spiders," punchy "Providence" throws together tight, pounding drums, scraping guitars, and skronky synths,

while "Inhaler" begins as a throbbing slow burner, it erupts into an almost metal track.

But the record hits its mellow mid-section and has difficulty getting its mojo back. "Late Night," which is pretty track of haunted keyboards, strings, and muted guitars, just sticks in neutral the entire time without really revving up. "Out of the Woods" is a perfectly pleasant pop track which unfortunately sounds like a Fleetwood Mac B-Side, almost polished within an inch of its life. And while "Milk and Black Spiders" and "Providence" kick things back up, oddly the band choose to end the record with two meandering, atmospheric ballads that take the record out on a rather tepid note. "Stepson" is gorgeously rendered, but its inert motion drags things down considerably, and closer "Moon" is almost ambient to the point of nothingness.

Thankfully the record is fleshed out with some more energetic and catchy tracks that make these other experiments not as glaringly bad. The triad of soaring anthem "Bad Habit," lush "Everytime" that sounds like Wish-era Cure, and slow burning rocker "Late Night" provide and nice heart to the record. If only the other more atmospheric tracks had been spread throughout the record better would the experience have worked more. Holy Fire is still a good record, one that I enjoy, and will be excited to see performed live, but I will admit I was expecting something greater from them. While it seems like the band is trying to reach for arena-ready rock of U2, this album comes across more as that band's later, blander work (a.k.a All That You Can't Leave Behind) than their more assured records (War, The Joshua Tree). Think of Holy Fire as a mere pit stop to assess where they are going. I am hoping they take a more adventurous route next time.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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