Foals - My Number

When Tom named Pissed Jeans’ Honeys Album Of The Week, commenter Robert Wohner implored us to not overlook Foals, who also released a new album last week: their third full-length, Holy Fire. I told Robert that I’d never been able to connect with Foals in the past, but based on his enthusiasm, I’d give them another chance, and cover them on Stereogum if they caught me this time around. I’m not sure writing about a remix of Holy Fire’s second single qualifies as coverage, but it’s a chance for me to share my thoughts.

I should mention first off that if you’re looking for someone at Stereogum who is especially apt to fall for bands that are insanely massive in the UK but total unknowns here, I’m your man. We’ll go into detail on this subject next week, when I premiere a Biffy Clyro track on the site (not joking), but let it just be said that this is my beat. I’m predisposed to liking Foals, and honestly? Listening to the new album, I found myself liking Foals! It peaks, for me, with tracks 3 and 4 — the first of those being “My Number,” which has been remixed here by Hot Chip. The original has a Scissor Sisters-esque disco groove; Hot Chip gives the song an airier, synthier feel, spacing out the rhythmic climaxes that appear with almost military consistency in the original.

Now just a couple more observations from me on Foals, in general (although they’re gleaned only from Holy Fire): So I like them and I can definitely see why other people like them, but I’m not sure yet why people love them. I find Holy Fire to be a masterfully constructed collection (or, I guess, a collection of masterfully constructed songs), but it seems kind of emotionally and psychologically distant: intentionally vague, maybe, or just polished to such a gorgeous sheen that some human elements have been worn away, too. Musically, it kind of exists in a sweet spot between Coldplay and Bloc Party, two other bands who are not so great at things like revelation or connection, but are super-skilled at just making amazing sounds, and from there, making songs that sound amazing.

Naturally some of this comes from me jumping in at LP3 without understanding Foals’ evolution, so I gotta go back to LPs 1 and 2 for some context. I will do that. And I’ll continue to cover the band here, too. Check out the Hot Chip remix of “My Number” below, and below that, the original.

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Comments (9)
  1. The song total life forever by them is amazing, superb groove, its what got me into them, I’d consider checking it out as you delve into their work.

  2. With Foals, Antidotes really is the place to start. It’s essentially Party Math Rock which is such a perfect combination for some reason (as in, it’s dancable, but it’s not dance). Total Life Forever is also fantastic, but definitely for different reasons, kind of like the leap the WIld Beasts made from LP1 to LP2. (In fact kind of similar to the leap Bloc Party and Bombay Bicycle Club made as well…)
    I was kind of dissapointed with Holy Fire though, having such high expectations and in the end it kind of sounds like a softer version of Total Life Forever (with a few exceptions such as Inhaler, My Number and Milk&Black SPiders). It’s still very nice though in isolation from the rest of their work, but if you like that, I have a feeling the other two records will jump out at you even more! (Red Sock Pugie, look forward to that :D )

  3. I like that you described them as a sweet spot between Coldplay and Bloc Party, because I recently described them to my friends as a mix between Coldplay and Interpol. I suppose Bloc Party is a little more appropriate. Anyway, good post!

  4. Wow, what a good looking single cover. decadent.

    hot chip always does it dirty. so right.

  5. Really interesting write-up. I’m a huge Foals fan who has always wondered why they’re one of the biggest bands in the UK and Australia, but only have a cult following in the US. This gives some pretty good answers. I can hear the comparisons with Coldplay , Bloc Party, The Killers etc but to me their musicianship sets them apart from any other band making music this commercially ambitious.
    I agree with your critique that the music “emotionally and psychologically distant.” They’re in the art rock tradition. I just think the music sounds great. “Two Trees” from Total Life Forever is probably the best example of this.
    Amazing live band too.

  6. Whaaaaat? Does it really just fade out in the end? I thought Hot Chip did longer remixes. It still rules but it felt like i was just getting going when it ended.

    I skipped over Foals at first too, but my sister insiste(r)d I check them out. The song “Spanish Sahara” is incredible borderline perfection. The last song on the album “What Remains” is a killer closer.

    But I guess what made this band jump from another band with some good songs to a “Hey, I should really keep an eye on these guys” was seeing their live show. The lead singer is quite the frontman. Near the end of the last song he turned his back to the crowd and fell backwards off the stage, disapearing into the crowd. I was standing near the back of the venue on a sort of balcony near where the audio booth was located. Sure enough I look over and he’s standing on the edge singing on the edge with what had to be a 15 foot drop off.

    Their set was great but I LOVE it when singers get carried away into the crowd. Tim Harrington proved the importance of that at shows many years back. But I’ve always enjoyed seeing bands enjoy their own music as much as the fans. It was one of those moments.

    “Spanish Sahara” is a beast live.

  7. Nice review and I don’t not agree. I’ll say this. Before Holy Fire launched, the band wrote on their Facebook that they were to have a album release party in New York where they’d play the whole record. “No RSVP needed, just show up!” Being a pretty big fan, obviously I jumped on the chance. Unfortunately, the band didn’t realize that their party was invite-only so the line outside the event space was initially not getting in. Which was annoying. Their rep/manager said that eventually they’d let us in one by one as space filled up. Most people left but the die-hards/losers waited for an hour or two before gaining admittance.

    A group of four people ahead of me were let in one by one, except one girl, who was denied because she was under 21. So she was almost crying outside while her friends went inside. A few minutes later, out comes the other three along with Yannis, the lead singer. He took pictures with the now giddy girl and her friends and casually chatted with them. He didn’t seen entirely engaged or charismatic but definitely gave them all a lot more time than I would have expected. Even if he was just trying to get a smoke in, I thought it was pretty cool of him to do.

    I guess I mention this story because, while I’ve always thought the members of Foals could star in a remake of a Clockwork Orange or be in Misfits, I liked seeing Yannis accept his role of band leader, which includes meeting sobbing girls on Delancy St. As the band progresses and gets more popular, they are making steps to act, sound, record and perform their songs like a band that matters. Which I respect. There is a Bloc Party/Coldplayesque quality to Holy Fire that takes away some of the fun they had with Antidotes or Total Life Forever. But I’m glad they believe in their skills and their sound enough to try to make the leap from indie act to headliner.

    • I like Holy Fire a lot – particularly My Number, Bad Habit and Out of the Woods. My main issue with the album is that, sonically, many of the songs have a similar sound. What I really loved about Total Life Forever was how each song had a vibe, and there was a cohesiveness to that vibe that stopped far short of every song sounding similar to one another. However, on this album, once you’re past My Number, every song has a similar hazy, reverby vibe that starts at Bad Habit, maybe lets up for Providence, but kicks right back in at Stepson ’til the end. Bloc Party encountered a similar problem with A Weekend in the City. I blame this completely on the production, as I like the *melodies* a lot. The production is very professional (as it should be with two giants at the helm), but I wish it wasn’t so samey sounding after My Number.

      Having said that, I’m very excited for their tour and will definitely be rocking out to all 3 of their albums in immense anticipation of seeing them again. They seem like good guys, and I love the music they make.

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