Foals: Holy Fire

If Holy Fire is taken as a clarion call from indie rockers oversees, then we may have a lot to look forward to this year.


Holy Fires

Label: Warner Bros. / Transgressive
US Release Date: 2013-02-12
UK Release Date: 2013-02-11

Decay and growth, rotting bones as prospective percussion instruments, and chain gang music aren’t the first things that come to mind when a British indie rock band’s new album is announced. Yet a recent interview with Foals front man Yannis Philippakis cites these things -- and many more -- as shaping the quintet’s third album, Holy Fire. Even if it weren’t for such intriguing inspirations, Foals would still have a lot to live up to. Not only was their last release -- 2010’s Total Life Forever -- considered a significant leap for the band in honing a more multifaceted sound, but Holy Fire also follows a recent spate of particularly strong British indie releases from bands such as Wild Beasts, the Horrors, and Friendly Fires. Seeing as those bands released their last albums in 2011, the time is ripe for another musically complex but strangely accessible album from the UK indie scene. Holy Fire has potential of being that album and sometimes surpasses the highs it aims for. Unfortunately it doesn’t do this enough.

Holy Fire claims Flood and Alan Moulder as its producers, and the atmosphere those two names suggest manages to mesh quite well with Foals' signature sound. Philippakis has mentioned recording in a studio with live vegetation, about the usefulness of having plants growing in a space in which something else is evolving in a very different way. Although Holy Fire certainly doesn’t hide its synthetic qualities, many tracks are rooted in a more traditional style of music. Philippkas has spoken highly of Alan Lomax's enduring chain gang recordings, and references pop up in unexpected places here. The opening of “Providence” is a bluesy bellow that still sounds perfectly at home in an indie song. Even the repeated line, “’Cos I’ve been around two times and found you’re the only thing I need,” in “Milk and Black Spiders” somehow feels like a chain gang call-and-response even with post-rock composition overpowering it.

Another surprisingly American influence is the (mild, this is a British band, after all) kitsch that somehow amplifies "My Number", one of the album’s best songs. A bass riff reminiscent of "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang grants it its earworm potential, but it's saved from being pure cotton candy by Jack Bevan's strong percussion and one of Philippakis’ better deliveries. First single “Inhaler” saves itself from a post-rock overindulgence of a chorus thanks to a lead-up far groovier than anything a post-rocker should ever conceive of developing.

Still, Foals have a few limitations preventing them from being a truly great indie band. For one, Philippkas' voice isn't always as pliant as he may think it is, and it strains throughout Holy Fire's more demanding tracks. Sometimes a more introspective approach can work in the band’s favor -- as it does on album closer “Moon” -- but even Flood and Moulder can’t save the ballady mire that is “Stepson”. Still, Foals are good enough that they can save largely underwhelming songs; Philippakis’ impassioned closing outburst on “Late Night”, and the instrumental funk digression that serves as its outro, makes the song’s mediocre lyrics and unexceptional melodies well worth sitting through.

From an American’s perspective, Foals ranks above average in the UK indie universe, with generally better singing than on the Horrors’ releases, but lacking Wild Beasts’ aversion to filler and failing to match Friendly Fires’ ratio of straight-up sing-along moments. Foals’ restraint likely has something to do with the latter failing, and when placed in this light it’s not a failing at all. If Holy Fire is taken as a clarion call from indie rockers oversees, then we may have a lot to look forward to this year.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.