Somewhere along the line, Foals straightened up their spines. Once hunched over their instruments, twisting their guitar strings into knots, their last two records (2013’s ‘Holy Fire’ and 2015’s ‘What Went Down’) found the Oxford group shelving complexity in favour of a more direct approach. It made festival headliners and arena-fillers out of the one-time math-rockers, the likes of ‘What Went Down’’s title-track and ‘Holy Fire’’s blistering ‘Inhaler’ a sucker-punch of distortion and immediacy. ‘Exits’, the first single from their upcoming twin albums, ‘Everything Saved Will Not Be Lost’, hints at a return to the weird and wonderful Foals of old.
Like ‘Inhaler’ and ‘What Went Down’ before it, ‘Exits’ signals Foals return with bluster. A short, sharp burst of stabbed synthesizer, it’s an attention-grabbing entrance that Foals have mastered. Quickly, though, ‘Exits’ drops away, dipping into a ballroom dance of noodling guitar and space-age electronics, each twisting around the other. It’s a bridge between Foals’ dual identities – the complexity of ‘Total Life Forever’ channelled through the huge production of ‘Holy Fire’ and ‘What Went Down’ – only this time it was Yannis himself that was behind the desk.
Those sharp left-turns continue throughout. The instrumentation feels exploratory – guitar lines, screeching keyboards, a Yannis-heavy choral segment and parps of distant horns fading in and out of focus, some only appearing once, others returning for a second or third run-through. It’s only in the chorus – both anthemic and, by Foals’ standards, understated – that those disparate elements come together in any real, cohesive form. By the time the guitar solo enters the frame – again, far less boisterous than the solos on their previous two records – the track feels almost freeform, like you’re peering in on a jam session; a welcome return to their early-days experimentalism.
Of course, it’s not quite ‘Antidotes’ levels of wacky. Foals’ career-long swagger is still present and correct. But as a first look at ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’, it’s a nod towards the oddity that once made Foals one of indie’s most exciting outliers. As they surge towards that first album of 2019, all bets are off. Two albums in one year was just the beginning – expect things to get weirder from here on out.