Music Review: What Went Down by Foals (2015)

Release: 28 August 2015
Release: 28 August 2015

Back in 2008 when Foals released their first album Antidotes it was all the rage. I had picked it up at the same time I picked up the first Los Campesinos! album, Hold On Now, Youngster…, and at the time it was the Los Campesinos! album that caught my attention. Many of my friends were head-over-heels for Antidotes and though I enjoyed my listens, I wasn’t so in love. Time would show me that my opinion was backwards. Hold On Now, Youngster… is a good album; it is fun and light indie pop, that lacks the depth of Foals’ debut. It took the release of Foals’ single “Spanish Sahara” for me to really find their hook. “Spanish Sahara” was a big change from Antidotes but it inspired me to go back and give the debut more thought. Antidotes is a really strong indie/math rock album, but for me their second release Total Life Forever was their masterpiece. Total Life Forever was so unexpected for me, but it turned me into a huge Foals fan.

In 2013, Foals released their third LP, Holy Fire. Between albums 1 and 2, there was a huge change in the bands sound, but between albums 2 and 3 there was almost no change. For a big fan of album 2 this should have been good news. There was one problem with Holy Fire. Where Total Life Forever was great from start to finish, Holy Fire was only great through the first half. It was an enjoyable album, but a little bit of a let down from Total Life Forever. My excitement was revitalized this year with the announcement of LP 4, What Went Down. Early singles were fantastic, but once again they sounded a lot like Total Life Forever. For this album I was optimistic that it would at least be better than Holy Fire, but I was doubtful it could achieve as much as Total Life Forever.

What Went Down was released on the 28th of August this year. I am pleased to report that I am satisfied. First listens had me enraptured. The album sounds great. It still doesn’t quite attain the lofty quality of Total Life Forever. However, it does achieve my simple goal of being better than Holy Fire. It is a bit heavier in sound and generally good throughout. There are a few exceptions, a few moments in which I find myself uninterested, but on a whole it is a strong release.

The Tracks:

“What Went Down” – This is a really good opener that does well to establish that this Foals is the same Foals that we have grown to love. They don’t reinvent the wheel, but they do produce their usual sound as well as ever. This track features a heavier sound but is in no way a drastic departure from their past albums.

“Mountain At My Gates” – The second track is another really strong song. It drops a bit of the heavy instrumentals and returns to a more traditional Foals sound. I find that both “What Went Down” and “Mountain At My Gates” are better than anything on Holy Fire.

“Birch Tree” – This track is a bit more atmospheric in sound and probably my favorite from the album. It sounds straight out of Total Life Forever which means I couldn’t be happier.

“Give It All” – It starts a bit softer, but builds nicely. I would say it isn’t as strong as the earlier tracks, but still quite good. The vocals and melodies are a bit more catchy than the previous tracks.

“Albatross” – With “Albatross” I find the album reaching its low point. Online I’ve heard lots of rave reviews for this track, but I don’t buy it. It is simple, uninteresting and, I’d say, borderline irritating. It is extremely repetitive and I worry that this albatross around their neck might drag the whole album down with it.

“Snake Oil” – This one is a very unique track for the band. It is comprised of some very interesting instrumentation and vocals that really don’t sound like anything Foals has released before. It isn’t the best track, but it is an exciting departure.

“Night Swimmers” – This is another stereotypical Foals but unfortunately it is a more forgettable Foals track. It gets lost behind the better tracks on the album. It is pleasant and an improvement over “Albatross” but still fails to stick with me.

“London Thunder” – A strong track that starts off soft and builds masterfully. It reminds me of some of my previous favorites “Blue Blood” and “Spanish Sahara” from Total Life Forever. The track is as enjoyable as Foals can produce. If they can release at least one track like this per album, then I’ll be happy for a long time.

“Lonely Hunter” – A good track that stands out alone, but doesn’t really bring anything special to the table. It’s a lot like the early tracks from the album, but not quite as good. On its own it is fun, but in the context of the album it gets a bit lost.

“A Knife In The Ocean” – “A Knife In The Ocean” is a decent closer. It isn’t particularly special and it doesn’t feel representative of the album. The track will spark some interest, but I find it skippable.

The album has its flaws but overall it is yet another strong addition to the Foals catalogue. I worry with this release that they are falling into the trap of repetition, with each album sounding a bit same-y. Luckily each of their releases has been consistently good, and this one is more consistent than the last. Die-hard Foals fans will likely be very satisfied with this album, but for the casual listener this will blur together with albums 2 and 3. For my final verdict, I’d give What Went Down 4 out of 5 stars.

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