Written By James Waddington |
In October 2015, myself and a group of friends tried to get tickets to see Foals. Only one parent was successful, and so, with only half of the tickets we needed, it was decided we would sell them and cut our loses. We had no luck selling and, on the eve of the gig, it was decided that it would be a waste of money not to go.
Semi-reluctantly, we drove to Manchester Arena to see Foals on their What Went Down tour. Despite our lack of initial eagerness to even attend, we still talk about the power and genius of Foals’ performance. Awe-stricken by the Oxfordshire quintet, my sixteen-year-old self relayed the performance’s impact to anyone that would listen.
It was recently announced that Foals would co-headline the Saturday night of Leeds festival, which all my friends had managed to get a ticket to. It would be our first festival in the summer after our GCSEs. We still argue whether it was Foals or Red Hot Chilli Peppers who gave the best performance, but the energy it is honesty something I’m not sure I’ve experienced from a live band since and is a performance I’ll never forget.
This time we were centre-mosh-pit, fueled up on tins of Fosters and knowing of every lyric. And as anyone in attendance that weekend will know, it absolutely pissed it down.
A lot has changed since that headline show at Leeds. Five have become four after the departure of longstanding member, bassist Walter Gervers; leaving Yannis Philippakis, Jimmy Smith, Jack Bevan and Edwin Congreaves.
it was decided that the quartet would self-produce their album
Desribed by Philippakis in a recent interview as “Probably the nicest member of Foals”, the loss of Gervers has dramatically changed the dynamic of the band and subsequently their writing and recording process. Having finished a two-year stint of non-stop touring, the band took some time out from music at the start of 2017.
Philippakis (vocals & guitar) claims to have done nothing musical for the rest-period, spending much time at his home in Peckham. Jimmy Smith (guitar & synths), the other primary creative influence behind Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost spent some time in Germany, where he penned rough demos of tracks that feature on the new album.
Foals’ previous four albums have followed a relatively similar format of writing album tracks in a live room (usually Oxford). This followed a move into a studio, where a producer supervised and shaped the album recordings.
The band decided that this wasn’t going to be the case for album six. Having developed enough understanding of recording from “nicking” the tricks of their previous collaborators, twinned with the increasing desire to break free from the creative shackles of an external producer, it was decided that quartet would self-produce their album.
This time, they would go straight into the studio to write instead of “thrashing out ideas in a room in Oxford”. The band selected a studio in Peckham that they could all walk to, but had to wait for Florence and The Machine to finish their latest album so that engineer Brett Shaw could assist them. The band said in recent interviews that their main ambitions for this album would be to record with no deadline and to work with “as little external input as possible.” This would afford them the creative freedom that they didn’t feel on their previous LPs (although you wouldn’t know!).
Having listened to Everything Not Saved, it sounds like this change in recipe worked, and if you’ve yet to listen, it’s an absolute banger!
The record perfectly opens with ‘Moonlight’, which pulls you through a portal into the parallel universe of Foals. It sets the scene for the record, a massive progression from 2008’s debut Antidotes.
I feel this track epitomises the constant evolution of Foals. The album is more synthesizer-based, a bold move for a band previously so guitar-central. Philippakis is definitely still discovering his voice, where a lot of their previous music has been centred around his energetic straining, Everything Not Saved sees a much greater focus on his lower range (which is lovely by the way).
“A sonic wormhole into another dimension” – Yannis Philippakis
Emerging from the mirage of ‘Moonlight’, the album segways nicely into lead single ‘Exits’, a real groover that chugs along with unapologetic shifts that relish in their lack of dynamics and chunkiness. Philippakis and Smith have both explained that Talk Talk’s 1986 new wave track ‘Life’s What You Make It’ was a big influence for this track.
After struggling with several different bass tracks that didn’t quite fit, inspired by LWYMI, the band decided to play the bass track on a muted piano; the track relishes in this experimentation, they also utilise the marimba to great effect, which results in additional funkiness. Lyrically, possibly my favourite track, ‘Exits’ depicts a frightening dystopian future of labyrinths and staircases where ‘the sea eats the sky […] And there’s no birds left to fly’, the surface of the world is inhabitable and humans live in underground in colonies like ants.
The song gives the impression that current environmental issues might mean that this sort of existence might not be so distant. Philippakis explained in a recent interview that the lyrics were partially inspired by an article he read about “Silicon Valley billionaires buying up land to build underground bunkers in New Zealand”. The idea that civilisation could collapse doesn’t seem so absurd anymore and the fact that the richest people on the planet are preparing for future forms of human life brings that home. The bleak lyrics are deceptively contrasted by the colour of its soundscape, a theme that prevails throughout the LP.
“Sad Bangers are us”
Next comes ‘White Onions’ and I would say this is the most recollective of their older music, ironically adding to an album that grapples with a time-hopping theme. This song is where the bands self-production shines through. After listening to it a few times you soon realise it isn’t nearly as sonically complex as the other songs on the album and this is where its brilliance lies. Harking back to their previous records within this song is brave as a four-piece, but testament to their continued chemistry. They give an old sound a new lease of life. Or as put by Philippakis “it’s like turbo-boosting a car”. Smith quickly adds “it’s more like new rims”. This one is going to be a killer live.
Fast-forward from a field at a festival to the dance floor of night club (not Club I) and you arrive at ‘In Degrees’; which shows another side to Foals’ flexibility.
A heavy bass-line and electro-muted riff pulses throughout – a real house track. ‘In Degrees’ chews up your preconceptions of a ‘rock band’ in 2019 and spits them right back out again. Having everything at their disposal from the early writing stages results in a different type of song altogether, something that is less centered around marimbas, vibraphones and a whole plethora of synths. The song is still very identifiably Foals. Again, taking inspiration from Talk Talk, the band explain that the process of making this record was a lot of doing whatever they fancied until something good happened.
According to Philippakis, ‘In Degrees’ is “a different beast.” Originally intended to depict the slow disintegration of a relationship, the song presents a lapse in communication; something which often happens in the breakdown of a relationship, especially in a technology-based age.
Philippakis has also made a point of explaining that the song has now taken on a second, deeper meaning, alluding to our relationship with society and relevantly, the environment. Lyrically, I think ‘In Degrees’ is the albums most fervent – the place it delineates is one of isolation; lacking in community; incremental; where human control is eroded. The irony is that the song itself will bring many together into a sweating mosh pit of unity – real communication.
‘On The Luna’ is the second single from the LP and the song I’m most excited to see live. It has a real shimmering quality, upbeat alt-rock and not too dissimilar from ‘White Onions’. It’s simple, exciting and not overthought, these qualities lend the song a sense of intimacy. As I said, ‘On The Luna’ definitely tips its hat to Foals’ earlier math-rock style, it’s a strange amalgamation of cross rhythms that make the guitar difficult to grasp (trust me I’ve tried). Philippakis has explained how this song emerged from resisting the temptation to pick apart their previous work – “I think that because we’re five records in we’re excited by things that maybe we did ten years ago … we enjoy aspects of things that only we can do, that maybe we were bored of doing”.
This song is Foals at their most carefree and goes back to their roots, however this is (AGAIN) contrasted lyrically “we had it all but we didn’t stop to think about it.”We in this song is definitely referring to all of us, much the same as ‘In Degrees’.
“Let the lyrics do the mind stuff and let the music be viscerally enjoyable”
Readers might have noticed the album title, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1. Another album, recorded simultaneously is due for release in autumn (lucky us). Whilst in the process of recording, the band realised that they had twenty songs that they were ‘really happy with” and that to cut ten songs would have lost the complete picture and choosing songs to scrap would have prompted arguments; Philippakis didn’t want the album to be an overwhelming “Dickens novel of an album”, or for it to be too much.
However, they haven’t simply just split it down the middle. The band assert that Part 2 offers a much different sound palette, and is much heavier and guitar-centric, with a closing song that’s ten minutes long! They’ve explained that whilst they both deal with similar issues thematically – both have their own journeys and are albums in their own right.
“In my mind you only get to the end of the album at the end of the last track of part 2”
The fact that the band have come out with two albums exemplifies what happens when you give a group of talented people complete creative freedom. Surf Pt. 1 is a 45 second excerpt of a track from Album 2 that introduces the mellow tones of ‘Sunday’ perfectly.
Listening to this album was a real journey for me. I’ve had it on repeat since it came out earlier this month and I’m still hearing things differently with every listen.
I think that it’s refreshing to see a band that could so easily have called it quits like a lot of groups that started out at a similar time have done (Maccabees I’m looking at you). Foals could have also simply remade 2015’s What Went Down to probably great commercial success, but the reason Foals continue to thrill their listeners is because of their refusal to conform to such expectations. A lot of the themes grappled with at such length in the lyrics of this album, usually impermeable topics, are visualised – which is testament to Philippakis’ ever-expanding songwriting capabilities.
I’m going to see Foals in Manchester in June with the same friends I did the first time, although his parents can’t make it. I’ve got high expectations, you can await my review.
Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 is out now.
Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 to follow this autumn.