An Album for the Weekend: Holy Fire, Foals (2013)

Foals* go by that sticky-note label “indie rockers” in the Internet music press. Independent of what? Every sound is derivative in some way, and no shame in that. An old high school/now Facebook friend who knows his music listed the band’s latest, Holy Fire, as a don’t miss. Curious, I downloaded and got down to it.

Or rather, up. Listening on my morning walk, I noticed my pace picking up by itself. The techno sounds are thick and aggressive, shaved on the edges by guitar licks that move back and forth between gritty dirt-chords and super-quick, kalimba-like riffs. I stopped dead in my tracks upon realizing, “OMG. I could dance to this. Me.”Foals_HolyFire

And that’s the key derivation, a potential negative browbeaten into a positive. It’s true, there’s a house-music vibe to Foals that would ordinarily put me off. But there’s also something that makes me want to hear what happens next. I imagine myself staying in the kind of too-loud, too-stroby London club I would usually flee, even ordering another £13 beer.

What I’m listening for, says the music press, is the band’s signature “mathletics” sound, in which lead vocalist/guitarist Yannis Philippakis and lead guitarist Jimmy Smith duel/overlay each other with polyrhythms — one spreading four dominant beats over a measure while the other crams in five or six, for example. What sounds good stays, often with a synthesizer line draped on top.

The result is a driving, echo-y aura of sound that can create a dream world or help you pound through a workout. Your choice. At times the lead vocals get a little watered down in a Chris Martin/Coldplay way, but often they’re an intriguing primal scream. Especially good are the two leadoff songs, “Prelude” and “Inhaler.”

The young Englishmen who make up the group come from Oxford and Cambridge, but I’m pretty sure the dons never heard anything like this. Worth an ear-stretch.♦

Foals North American tour is scheduled to start April 10 in Reno. Click here for all the dates.

* Click the arrows above and below the letters in FOALS on the band’s website to yield FOWKE and click Unlock for a loop of “Inhaler.” Search the Internet for other codes that lead to other songs.

© 2013 Adam Barr except music and album art

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