Foals have come a long way since their raucous early days as a ‘house party band’, although they’re probably still paying off the bills. We took a break from looking forward to their fourth album to look back on their best tunes so far.
“I’m an animal just like you,” yells Yannis Philippakis on this ‘Holy Fire’ track, its snares and cymbals snapping at his heels like a puppy. The song inverts the usual pop formula of repetitive structures and vague lyrical narrative by establishing Yannis’s hoarse mantra as anchorage for increasingly cosmic experiments in the music, before taking off into the stratosphere in the outro.
9 ‘Olympic Airways’
Foals said their Dave Sitek-produced debut, ‘Antidotes’, was influenced by Steve Reich, Arthur Russell, Madonna, Talking Heads and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, marking the first and last time those disparate icons featured in the same sentence. Apart from that one. Anyway, fourth single ‘Olympic Airways’ did a fine job spanning the off-piste pop spectrum, proving so propulsive and funky even the sceptics screaming ‘Skins buzz band!’ were meeting its eye across the dancefloor.
8 ‘Bad Habit’
So, Foals always said they were influenced by the likes of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, but it wasn’t until songs like ‘Bad Habit’ that their music said it for them. Over a busy lattice of high-pitched fretwork, the ‘Holy Fire’ single turns a metropolitan into something improbably emotional and soothing, just like Yannis’s neoclassical idols.
7 ‘Two Steps, Twice’
In the wake of boundary-nudging hell-raisers like math-punks ¡Forward, Russia!, Foals might’ve disappeared into the crowd were it not for breakneck experiments like ‘Two Steps, Twice’. The song takes the jittery-nerved punk-funk on which they’d made their name and gives it a mutant-infused hit of raw, explosive energy.
‘Hummer’ was arguably Foals’ most popular song in their early days, but they exiled it from ‘Antidotes’ because, in Yannis’ words, “There are too many albums today where you release 5 singles before the album even comes out.” It’s a fair point, and ‘Hummer’ has proven a hidden gem for fans to discover despite it rarely making an appearance in their live sets these days.
5 ‘Red Socks Pugie’
‘Red Socks Pugie’ bursts into life from the get-go: vocal cords tremble, starry guitars sigh and drums gallop like a mad antelope through the plains. Before you know it, the ground opens up, and out come the yearning wails and effervescent, mathy acrobatics to make this the essential ‘Antidotes’ track.
Second Foals album ‘Total Life Forever’ didn’t totally abandon the mathy playfulness of their debut – ‘Black Gold’ for example, with its riffed nod to Stone Roses’ ‘Fools’ Gold’ (like Foals’ gold, get it?), evoked some of the brainier exercises on ‘Antidotes’. But songs like ‘Miami’, with its airily cooed vocals in place of Yannis’ aggro bark, showed they had the chops for crowd-pleasers, too. Just don’t ask what lyrics like “I promised you open ocean glow” mean.
3 ‘My Number’
‘My Number’ is a song so catchy it’s actually a bit annoying, but fortunately, sometime around the fourth chorus, it comes full circle and becomes an anthem for the summer again. If the song hadn’t come out in mid-December, that slender riff would’ve been rubbing shoulders with ‘Get Lucky’.
It’s a funny little thing, ‘Inhaler’. Though notably less catchy than follow-up single ‘My Number’, it still holds its own as the ‘Holy Fire’ song you keep coming back to. There’s something magic in those shimmery chords in the verse, which combine with martial drums to bound into your heart, before detonating a stadium-metal riff in the chorus.
1 ‘Spanish Sahara’
‘Antidotes’ may have revelled in its itchy, twitchy yelps of youthful energy, but on ‘Spanish Sahara’, Foals opened up, chilled the fuck out and wrote a classic for the ages. Not that it wasn’t every bit as complex and smart as their best stuff, of course, but while their debut had been an album to get pissed and party to, ‘Spanish Sahara’ was the moment you invited Foals back to your living room the next afternoon without hiding your valuables first.