Foals have become one of the biggest bands to arise from the fruitful Oxford, England scene as of late, and their third album Holy Fire finds them carving out a sizeable international space for themselves. The album is a natural progression from the dense math-rock of their debut, Antidotes, through the spacious creations of breakthrough record Total Life Forever, and into something bigger and somehow more infectious. The Bloc Party comparisons have not stopped, and as long as there’s a disco heart throbbing inside Foals’ multifaceted sound, they probably won’t. But there’s plenty of evidence on Holy Fire that Foals have their own unique way of doing things.
Upbeat, driving jams like the astoundingly catchy “My Number”, the grandly smitten love song “Bad Habit”, and the pulsating “Everytime” dominate Holy Fire, but there’s plenty of variation. Opening shot “Prelude” is a Porcupine Tree-like blend of prog construction and electronic rock atmosphere, and “Inhaler” intersperses dance-rock with guitar grind, mammoth guitars and synths charging to the forefront. “Late Night” somehow manages to sound like Duran Duran, Jackson Browne, and The Cure all at once, and “Stepson” channels the slow-motion, sample-laden makeup of some recent Radiohead offerings.
There are plenty of wild sounds, but never to the detriment of the experience; within every song lies an unmistakable core of authenticity that begs the listener to find the fundamental facets of each. Even in the string-and-synth oblivion of “Milk & Black Spiders”, the vocals carry the most aural weight. Singer Yannis Philippakis has a gauzy croon worthy of the envy of many an indie band, and it’s a focal point of the band’s sound, but its prevalence varies based on the needs of the song. “Out of the Woods” is probably the clearest example of the band letting his voice take precedence over all else, while the visceral dark disco of “Providence” finds his desolate intonations layered with reverb and echo.
Holy Fire is an ambitious and large-sounding album full of potentially massive songs, and the band has made good on five years of forward momentum. While we’ve often been down this stylistic road before – soaring vocals, dance rhythms, indie sensibilities, and an artistic bent – there’s an element of pure rock and roll on Holy Fire that makes Foals stand out. One gets the sense that they’re just getting started, creatively and commercially, and their gradual growth and evolution have, so far, resulted in increasingly better albums.