Forging ahead after the successful artistic shift that came under the banner of their Utah cult mantra-esque Total Life Forever, Oxford five-piece Foals have returned.
The most immediately identifiable development, and perhaps the most interesting for the options it creates, is that they’ve found out how to get to 11 on their amplifiers – and they know how to use it. First single ‘Inhaler’ possesses an outright monster of a riff, muscular and rip-roaring, which despite now lacking the element of surprise has exchanged the sensation of startlement for an anticipatory excitement that comes with the release it affords amidst the song’s claustrophobic breathless tone, and ‘Providence’ similarly pound and rages amidst the distortion as it reaches its moments of crescendo.
Alongside the extra toys in the box though, the group still make increasingly well-defined use of their now staple sonic stomping grounds: the precise fret-board mathematics with which they first caught our ears, the uber-infectious and festival-ready ‘My Number’; the atmospheric spaciousness previously wielded to such transcendent effect on ‘Spanish Sahara’ and ‘Olympic Airways’ which particularly dominates towards the album’s closure – reaching its most sublime on album highlight ‘Milk & Black Spiders’.
Crucially, with this increasing repertoire and refinement comes a sparer use of any individual aesthetic, facets of all the elements of their sound, old and new, instead rising and falling to prominence throughout an album that operates like a Galileo thermometer, fluctuations in mood and temperature instigating appropriate shifts in song-writing and production.
It’s this developing freedom of their abilities in and artful awareness of their craft that makes Holy Fire such a resounding accomplishment, certainly on the level of the instrumental; but there are still some nagging complaints which prevent the record asserting itself as runaway success – notably lyrically. For every gem of absolute heart: “Cause I know you're still with me, / You; my compass and my sea”, Yannis offers clunkers like “sticks and stones don’t break my bones” and “I’m the last cowboy in town”, occasionally mistaking his heightened capacity for clarity with overt simplicity, which whilst not bringing down the tracks as a whole, they do momentarily cause a hiccup in the overriding sense of this record as the ultimate realisation of the band’s ripe promise.
Yet, Holy Fire's aptitude for brilliance comes to such an extent, that the patient time that needs to be afforded to the areas that will benefit from it most is easily earned. There’s much to admire, moments to love, and plenty to suggest 2013 could very much be Foals’ year.