Review Summary: In some unexpected ways, Foals unleash the urgency and subdued energy that's been boiling beneath the surface of their entire career.
In regards to their new album’s direction, Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis stated that What Went Down
would be “their loudest and heaviest record to date.” A bold statement from a frontman of a revered indie band to make, though perhaps not an unexpected one for the controversial vocalist. While it's true that the band's latest features a fair amount of increasingly impassioned singing, and even some screaming, almost all cases only appear within the first ten minutes. Lead singles “What Went Down” and “Mountain At My Gates” each build to incredible climaxes, the band’s loudest and most attention grabbing moments in their career. Ultimately though, aside from the fuzzy distortion of “Snake Oil,” much of What Went Down
is essentially concentrated on embodying the very best aspects of the band's sound. Lyrical themes and adventurous songwriting are the concentration here, and the incredible effort is second only to Total Life Forever
An important mindset to have when listening to What Went Down
is having a reasonable level of expectation from the group. The post-rock tendencies and grandiosity of Total Life Forever
don’t exactly return as some had hoped, but certainly make up the overall sound at certain times, particularly in closing track “A Knife in the Ocean.” They certainly sound less poppy than they did on Holy Fire
, but maintain its' streamlined and polished qualities. “Birch Tree” embodies the accessible side of Holy Fire
mixed with hit track “Miami” from Total Life Forever
. It stays locked at a brisk mid-tempo pace, featuring a funky bass line and pleasant guitar and synth harmonies intertwining together for an album highlight. “Albatross” plays with the band’s typical formula. It hearkens back to their best material, never quite satisfying all the build-ups and dynamic changes that are weaved throughout. Celestial sounding keyboard lines in the bridge remain one of the most memorable passages of the whole album. The decision to focus on swelling dynamics and new aspects of layering without a cathartic finale is an interesting one, making "Albatross" particularly refreshing.
Philippakis’s specific statements about What Went Down
were perhaps exaggerated. He has made himself known for confrontational remarks. His outspoken attitude is realized at its most in the aforementioned singles. While this stands as among their strongest and most attention grabbing material, Foals also showcase their less flashy sides. "London Thunder" is a subdued ballad, requiring numerous listens to take in all the subtle qualities and musical textures it possesses. Foals also decide to join Arctic Monkeys in the group of popular indie bands trying to imitate Black Sabbath, “Snake Oil” being their “Arabella,” featuring fuzzy riffs and a slightly harder sound. While it is enjoyable enough to hear the indie masters experiment with a more fun and hard rocking sound, it could leave more of an impact than it ultimately does.
Foals could have gone all out in being punchier and more intense to accompany the hype surrounding the supposedly changed sound. However, when What Went Down
achieves such memorability and a knack for replayability, it doesn't even matter. The last two tracks in particular propel it to being among their best work, in a way hearkening back to the impressiveness of the opening fifteen minutes. “Lonely Hunter” and “A Knife in the Ocean” are each among the band’s most interesting and adventurous material. The former features mysterious and atmospheric guitar work with impressive and impassioned vocals from Philippakis. The latter is the group's longest song to date, a true epic showcasing incredible lyrics, vocals, and a gorgeous lead harmony, beautifully concluding What Went Down
with a haunting and resonant catharsis.
was a cohesive, satisfying, and diverse release that also had the feeling that something was missing. The epic feel and uniquely aquatic atmospheres of Total Life Forever
had been largely transformed, and in a way expanded upon. With this latest release, Foals cement themselves not so much as musical innovators and progressors, but as possessing a strong sense of themselves and their ever-evolving musical style. The poppier aspects of Holy Fire
and even Total Life Forever
haven’t been extinguished for a more aggressive sound. If anything, What Went Down
embodies yet another marker for evolution as a streamlined, varied, modern rock record that demands many replays to fully sink in. Give What Went Down
a listen for yourself, and experience all the quirky, demanding, dark, and resonating qualities Foals pour themselves in to each of their captivating and diverse releases. You won’t regret it.