Review Summary: on the cusp
Foals have been on the cusp of greatness for some time now, but something’s always been missing from their music. While their older albums are great in their own right, Foals have had a hard time parting themselves from their contemporaries (Bloc Party, Two Door Cinema), but Holy Fire is different insofar as it being a culmination of all the sounds Foals has been toying with for years, as well as a few not-so-fleshed-out ones. “Inhaler” is the
quintessential Foals song, marrying all of their best elements in what’ll likely go down as the rock anthem of the year; “My Number” is the perfect example of what the top 40 should
sound like, being their poppiest and most straightforward song to date, devoid of Philippakis’ subtext when he sings, ‘You don’t have my number / We don’t need each other now;’ and “Milk & Black Spiders” is the album’s epic highlight - its impact as strong as Total Life Forever
’s centrepiece, “Spanish Sahara.” It’s brimming with pure pop glee (something they have an inherent aptitude for), and it has its rock-out moments as well.
Conversely, they’re squandering brilliance here. The atmospheric build to ‘Prelude’ is more of a tease than a hint of what’s to come, never truly resolving all of that pent-up tension, yet it also serves as a great example of Foals dabbling in a more experimental sound - one whose full potential has yet to be realized. Similarly (in its experimentation, not in sound) is the bookended “Moon,” an utterly listless piece and - to say the very least - a confusing way to conclude Holy Fire
. It steps over that line of exercising a balance between indie-rock and atmosphere and plunges headfirst into the latter, treading along as slow as molasses and failing to be as poignant as Foals would have us think it is. However, although this hodgepodge of ideas ultimately disservices Holy Fire
in that it feels too scatterbrained for its own good, it isn’t deplorable by any means. Quite the contrary; it’s fun to hear Foals toying around with new aesthetic elements, especially when they fit the mold. The somewhat ironically titled “Out Of The Woods” is telling of this. Unlike many of the songs in the latter half of Holy Fire
, “Out Of The Woods” doesn’t feel oversaturated in ambiance, rather, it’s surrounded by a kind of drafty atmosphere that isn’t ever competing with the music - it sinks in nicely, giving room for glockenspiels and dreamy keys. Also noteworthy, “Inhaler”’s stadium-sized chorus is soaked in an almost shoegaze-y atmosphere with Philippakis shouting ‘And I can’t get enough SPAAAAAAAACE’ over a wall of noise. (It actually almost sounds like something Thursday would write... Well, the chorus, at least).
All in all, Holy Fire
simultaneously delights and frustrates. At times (most notably on “Inhaler”) it makes their past albums sound as though they were made up of mere breathing exercises by comparison, while other times it’s maddeningly frustrating to hear just how hard they missed the mark. Foals are definitely building towards something big, and while this album isn’t their defining statement, it helps bring new ideas to the table and pave the way for them. So take it as it is: a collection of enjoyable tunes with some not-so-great ideas that they’ll have to work on. There’s a classic in Foals yet, but for now we’ll just have to settle for a more consolidated sound.