Review Summary: "I can't get enough... SPACE!"
As I began my first listen through Holy Fire
, I asked myself how possible it was for Foals to create another masterpiece. Initially, I wondered if it maybe was the wrong way to go about it all, me expecting something just as colossal as 2010’s Total Life Forever
. However, it’s futile to downplay this reaction, isn’t it? When an artist’s creation far surpasses expectations, it’s reasonable enough for the spectators at hand to expect more in the future, and to give the respective artist more of a chance. After all, this is mostly why Radiohead was able to pull off The King of Limbs
three years ago, because the band had the credibility to pull off such an oddball release. If this says anything, it’s that Foals had forever raised the bar with its sophomore release, and that no, they couldn’t hold us accountable for it.
It’s comforting, then, to know Holy Fire
meets expectations, albeit in a different manner than its predecessor. Whereas Total Life Forever
was a full-fledged exploration into how much indie-rock could evolve, it successor is based exclusively around fine-tuning. It certainly doesn’t feel this way from the get-go, though. Initially, it’s almost scary how much Holy Fire
relies on its predecessor for ideas. Some tracks feel more familiar than expected, and others even mimic Total Life Forever
’s most pivotal moments. The release would still accomplish the same things if “Bad Habit” and “Stepson” were replaced entirely by their more fleshed out counterparts, “This Orient” and “Spanish Sahara.” To call this sense of repetition concerning on the first listen would be a severe understatement; good thing, then, that the album truly shines after a couple more listens.
Fortunately, most of Holy Fire
finds itself with a fresh outlook. Lead single “Inhaler” is a surprisingly powerful number, with the chorus showcasing a heavier edge yet unforeseen from the Oxfordian group. The track’s also possibly the best one here because of its unique instrumentation, though, the playful percussive elements holding the verses together. And this sense of instrumental exploration is the area in which the album experiments, by approaching familiar song structures with a different timbre. Pardon my ignorance, but I can’t quite tell if “Out Of The Woods” features glockenspiel or marimba. Either way marks growth for Foals, a group becoming more familiar with its desire for growth than anyone could have anticipated. While this may seem like a bit of a leap, let’s consider the range of sounds featured in Total Life Forever
, or lack thereof. Not to say the album was worse off for it - quite the opposite, actually - but the bottom line is that it’s nice to hear Foals avoid any sort of sonic comfort zone on Holy Fire
This release’s downfall, though, is an overemphasis on atmosphere. The most glaring instance of this issue is in the album’s second half, and particularly the last track. Foals simply aren’t tailored for creating the sort of ambient crawlspaces for which Sigur Rós strives, despite what closer “Moon” would have us believe. The track works more as a lullaby than anything else for the majority of its runtime, but it then cascades into atmospheric swells... without resolution. There’s no catharsis afterwards, no buildup that adds a necessary tension, and this renders the track’s existence utterly meaningless because of one thing: it doesn’t believe itself to be meaningful in the first place. What a sour way to end such an otherwise saccharine album, especially since the same phenomenon occurs with “Late Night” and its anxious bridge. When the moment builds only to give way to a forgettable chorus, it’s too hard to care where the track goes afterwards. Its most vital moment, after all, isn’t even given the proper respect. And by the time “Moon” closes, it’s difficult to not be frustrated with Foals, because they were doing so well when concerned with catchiness.
Ultimately, though, the bulk of Holy Fire
is another sterling addition to Foals’ repertoire, and the band knows it too. The album’s the tangible representation of Foals studying the commotion of its sophomore release and laughing it off, with “You think that
was our peak? Just wait, man.” So lest we get caught up in when Foals will begin to decline, or whether Total Life Forever
was really and truly the group’s best, let’s just face it: Holy Fire
is pretty damned cool, and “My Number” will be stuck in your head for at least the next three weeks. We'll worry about the rankings later.