Fans of British math rock band Foals have long known they have been somewhat of a kept secret, especially here in the U.S. After releasing two respectable indie rock records, the band is now poised to reach a much wider audience with their third effort Holy Fire, easily their most masterful work to date.
While the band is known for forging their own path, they have, in effect, followed a path that is currently being followed by a string of indie rock and pop acts in order to broaden their reach: namely, they’ve gone more pop. This move always runs the risk of being labeled a sellout; however, Foals have done it with such seamlessness and grace that it actually serves to mature their sound, making it more accessible. In my view, that’s precisely what was needed to take this highly talented group of individuals to the next level.
As if to begin with an audible proof that the band have not left their experimental roots, Foals launches Holy Fire with a four-minute “Prelude” that sets atmosphere while building a sense of anticipation. From there, the record sort of plays like a study in how many genres can be touched upon with an underlayer of staccato guitar riffs. “Inhaler”, arguably the album’s most poignant track, continues the slow buildup set by the Prelude, finally emptying out at the end of the chorus into wide-open, arena-rock, wall-of-sound guitars that beg a concert crowd to go absolutely crazy. The next song, “My Number,” is practically the antithesis of “Inhaler”, trading the arena-rock sound for a contagious, pulsing dance groove.
The musical exploration goes on from there, venturing into Temper Trap-esque indie rock (“Bad Habit”), U2/Edge-esque effected guitar rock (“Everytime”), and the math-rocky time changes of “Providence.” The album eventually closes similarly to how it began, with the moody, spacey, atmospheric “Moon.” But even with all this genre shifting, the music is all tied together with Foals’ signature sixteenth-note staccato undertones, along with some of the most accessible hooks the band has ever written. The final package is a nearly flawless record that should win over many more fans while continuing to please the existing loyalists.
Overall, Holy Fire is a defining moment in the burgeoning career of a still-young indie-rock band. In my view, Foals has carefully crafted a project that will serve as a vehicle to propel them to a new level of success, and probably international acclaim.