Of the influences for Holy Fire, Foals vocalist and guitarist Yannis Philippakis lists “The Delta, voodoo, the swamp, sexuality, Byzantine iconography and music, syrupy rhythms, the mountains, the abyss, the decline of the bee populations, hip hop, and stoner rock” along with the folk music of the Deep South in the United States.
What may seem like an ornate warren of options clots rather nicely with this, the Oxford-based band’s third studio album. With the four members of the group pushing into their 30s, the shift from the impulse of their debut Antidotes is less an obligation and more a desire to push the distinctive into something more general.
That’s not to say that fans of Philippakis, Jack Bevan (drums), Walter Gervers (bass, backing vocals), Jimmy Smith (guitars), and Edwin Congeave (keyboards, backing vocals) will find themselves on the outside looking in while their favoured Foals make a Tegan and Sara-sized transition to fun, giddy dance-pop.
But there is something unique here, something transformative but not entirely transitional.
Holy Fire is produced by Flood and Alan Moulder, lending more weight to the changes in sonic scenery. “I was impressed with their attitude to making a record and their ambition towards achieving something individual and unique but still wanting to appeal to the ‘masses,’” says Moulder of working with Foals.
To make things more interesting, Flood and Moulder convinced the band that there were running through demos when they were in fact putting actual music to tape. “The band aren’t over-thinking as they aren’t aware they are being recorded and sometimes you get some gems,” says Moulder.
Consider the desolate, industrialized near-blues that come into focus on the impressive “Prelude.” This serrated song coils in a frame of noise and charred riffing. It carries a blistering groove underneath.
Or the cataclysmically cool “Inhaler,” with its spindly guitars and drilling drums, and the devious hook in “My Number.” These two tracks draw us into the vortex almost instantaneously, melting chunks of New Wave with Prince, stoner rock and some of that abyss Philippakis was mentioning earlier. The resulting liquefaction finds a band lean and mean, sending shivers and shock waves with new conviction.
Depeche Mode undercurrents slash into the anthemic “Out of the Woods,” while the delicate “Late Night” gives listeners a chance to savor the collision between personal and universal.
“I want to make songs for people who I feel like have been disenfranchised by alternative rock music,” says Philippakis. Holy Fire has done that in many ways and Foals have captured the closest thing to lightning in a bottle. This is an organic record but it is also polished, creating some wonderfully warm and audacious musical memories.