Those who long for that era of melancholy and breakbeats will find What Went Down is a fantastic record.
Foals’ music is in the pocket. Whose pocket? The quiet girl sitting at the back of the train with her headphones on, staring out the window and watching graffiti roll by in a blurry parade of indiscernible urban artwork. Sitting down and focusing on it as a listen-through experience would be to miss the point. You’re only going to fall asleep. That’s not to imply it’s boring, far from it. It’s a rich tapestry of rhythms, melody and rock that’s more at home on the sparsely populated, post-party dance floor. Its role is in the background like the paint on your walls, called out only when it’s vibrant or when it’s dull, it’s mood-altering, deceivingly simplistic despite a depth measured in the collective effects of self-reflection, gyrating hips and head nods in the room. It’s in the pocket — fitting perfectly between extremes where nobody’s looking but everybody sees.
The opener shares the album’s name and borrows from The National’s playbook for complex, broken and earnest drumming — something of a trademark for Foals. Fans of The National’s “Mistaken for Strangers” will appreciate the appearance here of a similar dark mood and frantic unraveling. Yannis Philippakis’ vocals play like another instrument in the mix balanced perfectly and, as the guitars unwind and become increasingly frantic, we’re told that What Went Down is a far more urgent event than previous records.
“Snake Oil,” beginning with an almost Fuck Buttons-like looping synth line, plays upon the contrast of down-tuned bass guitar plucked purposefully and the haphazard and monotonous key tones. It’s deliciously funky and is one of the highlights of a record which seems to flow from beginning to end, like a non-stop progressive house mix rather than a rock album. “London Thunder” takes a break for the bleeding hearts, a lock-step echoing bass and distorted snare adding pace to a pretty melody delivered with a sincerity by Philippakis. It’s somewhat oddly juxtaposed to “Lonely Hunter” which could be described as its opposite — a far more theatrical and mostly uninteresting pop song delivered melodramatically.
Back in 2002 an un-Googlable English band, The Music, perfected this same crossover of classic rock vocals, pop melody and disco rhythms. Though they came to some prominence in their home country they never really took off in North America. Foals on What Went Down really feel like a second shot at whatever prize inspired that endeavor. And there’s certainly a place for it. Who doesn’t like to dance and rock out at the same time? Could we be seeing the return of bands like Inspiral Carpets, Northside and Happy Mondays? One can only hope. The members of Foals don’t seem to show a dangerous weakness for hallucinogens and alcohol and perhaps that’ll translate into longevity and an evolution for this sound. Foals seem to be taking it a step further with every record and while they may never secure a place in the tiny hearts of the mainstream, those who long for that era of melancholy and breakbeats will find What Went Down was a fantastic record.