Album Review: Foals – What Went Down

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In a way, Foals’ new album What Went Down has always been in perpetual motion. It’s been nearly seven years since the release of their debut album Antidotes, an album that seemed to create their entire reputation for the next two years – angry, intellectual, and incredibly skilled in the realm of math rock, a genre so rhythmically complex and fronted by none other than Steve Reich, which, in hindsight would send any music theorist reeling. Still, this was the image that Foals presented to the world, looking more like a young-blooded, indie heart attack with their asymmetrical hair and tight tennis shorts, yelping out lyrics and letting the instrumentals speak for themselves. It was a good move, considering the recognition this unique kind of gusto gave to the quintet, but of course, a buzzed out, angst-emblazoned foundation would only prove to be one-sided. Total Life Forever, their sophomore album, wiped away all the self-righteousness only to find a beating heart, one patiently waiting to be dissected and examined. Half the tracks dripped with an almost tangible sense of wonder, while the other half played with the concepts of darkness and vulnerability, a condition that seems to be synonymic with the mere idea of Foals as a band. The struggle between excitement and fear for the void may have been the result of having a multi-layered enamel surrounding singer and frontman Yannis Philippakis’ entire being, as well as a newfound darkness slowly settling into his heart. Just by listening to the album beginning to end was enough proof that the rage – from memories of being an outcast in his childhood, an outsider to his father, and frustrations with his own personality flaws – were slowly building. Three years later, Holy Fire came barreling through and changed the band’s image like nothing else before. It was nearly flawless in everything from its individual track construction to the placement and proportion of those same tracks, and the underlying themes of self-laceration and vulnerable anger made the album one that truly deserved the nomination of the Mercury Prize. The tracks raged and scratched into the skin with dirty fingernails, chugged and puffed with brute force, and most importantly, became the first time that Philippakis could really, really scream into the void. It really wouldn’t make sense that the void would ignore a band as volatile and skillfully impressive as Foals, and something seemed to beckon and echo strongly enough, considering the short amount of buffer time that occurred until What Went Down finally burst through the seams.

Yannis Philippakis has mentioned that usually, the band takes a break before hitting the grindstone again, but this time, it was back to their stinky, cramped Oxford studio almost immediately after touring for Holy Fire. They then transferred to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the very same commune that housed the asylum in which Vincent Van Gogh sought solace after infamously chopping off his ear. That’s the sort of inspiration and history Foals thrive on, and judging by Yannis Philippakis’ need to channel an inner madman, it’s a pretty amazing place to complete any project. It was the fastest they have ever recorded an album, foregoing the perfectionist attitude that seemed to hold them back before. Because of this, one thing to realize when listening to What Went Down for the first time is that it’s structurally and emotionally different from anything else Foals has done. I truly want to say that it’s a culmination of all the thoughts and feelings presented, that it takes the youth of Antidotes, the awakening of Total Life Forever, and the mature rage of Holy Fire, but ultimately, the truth is that it deserves to be presented as the beginning of new ideas, albeit madness-induced ones. The title track “What Went Down” is a good representation of this, considering its rabid, foaming rage in which the lyrics compare men to lions and liars and bury hearts deep into the ground. It snarls and bites in its krautrock inspired instrumentals, and even though they sometimes overpower the vocals, they still succeed in getting the major point across.

The feeling of strength and fervor is succeeded with “Albatross” and “Snake Oil,” the more volatile of the bunch, although a little strained in inspiration and consistency. There’s a Black Keys vibe somewhere in there, in between the raging guitars and Jack Bevan’s vitriol infused drumming, which actually weakens it somewhat, yet doesn’t take away from the intense skill itself. The album, at times, tries to reinvent the concept of a riff, and What Went Down is chock full of them, no matter if they’re clean and bright, or dark and grungy. However, it seems as if the constant display of these riffs take away from everything else the tracks have to offer, and ultimately only serve as a way for Foals to desperately prove their worth. They have proven that they the masters of simplicity, and thus should have stayed with the rough, minimal sounds of Holy Fire while also experimenting with their new sound. Again, the riffs aren’t bad, but they just make you miss what once was. However, the major themes repeated throughout the album strengthen it again, and it helps the initial lack in consistency and inspiration in the first listen. Nature is something that seems to be an inspiration to Philippakis, considering that in most of his compositions he’s floating in the middle of the ocean, the desert, or anything that proves to be vast and terrifying. It definitely works, and I found myself imagining the sun-stroked river in math rock stunner “Birch Tree,” the murky blue lagoon in “Night Swimmers,” and of course, the daunting mountain in the upbeat track “Mountain At My Gates,” the little sister to Holy Fire single “My Number.” However, no three tracks come close to the gorgeous ballads “London Thunder,” “Give It All,” and closer “A Knife In the Ocean.” There’s a new sense of empowerment and rejuvenation found in these tracks, and the more I listen to them, the more ideas present themselves to me. It’s among the best Foals have ever written, and especially with “Give It All,” the passion is clearly still there. The falsetto that opens it is world’s different from Yannis Phillippakis’ signature voice, and everything from the lyrics to the images they create make it an absolute stunner.

In the past, Yannis Philippakis has used music as an emblem of pure honesty – a no-nonsense sort of writing that uses metaphors and images in a way that isn’t meant to be ambiguous, but evidence of the true human condition of vulnerability, passion, and conflagrant anger. With What Went Down, that cerebral sound is traded for one more visceral, and even though it’s clear that Philippakis is still hurting, the music is no longer glorifying those feelings. Rather, it seems to be more evocative of coming to terms to his own condition and trying his best not to savagely rip pieces of himself away anymore, or embrace brutality for brutality’s sake. Even though it’s clear that in What Went Down the inspiration and readability is hazy and distant at times, the heart never fails to show itself. Foals are still that muscular, beating heart found in Holy Fire – an album that truly changed my perception of beauty and honesty for the better – but now it’s one that’s getting closer to finding a warm body in which to call a permanent home, even though the journey is far from being over. In the meantime, they’ll go back to doing what they do best – portraying real, human emotion as it’s meant to be portrayed.

8.0/10

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photo by Nabil Elderkin
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I’lls – “Keep”

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Melbourne based band I’lls (pronounced “Isles”) have a very distinct, other-worldly sound. The heavily concentrated mixture of Four Tet inspired beats and synth create a powerful feeling of being submerged, surrounded, even cocooned within a warm being. Their new album Can I Go With You To Go Back To My Country is chock full of this exact feeling, but presented in very different ways. “Keep” is the most simple of the bunch, keeping it minimal (as far as they go) with the beats as opposed to their more popular track “Let Me Have Just One,” its moodier sibling. Singer Simon Lam’s voice is absolutely gorgeous, and the darkness that shrouds over the instrumentals is enough to keep you listening.

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photo by Angie Pai

Methyl Ethel – “Twilight Driving”

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Perth’s Methyl Ethel have just released their debut album Oh Inhuman Spectacle, a compilation of the trio’s take on casual, warm indie pop, which is as enticing as it is quirky. Their single “Twilight Driving” showcases a more eerie, but powerful side of the band as it opens, leading into an imaginative vocal track filled with “‘roos” and imagery of a wide open scenery. It paints a vivid picture, and the track morphs along with it.

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P.S. Also, let me apologize for not posting a new album review last week. I was in the midst of moving and getting settled in, but rest assured that everything is back on track (with a brand spanking new album review coming on Friday!).

photo by pilerats

Baio – “Sister of Pearl”

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Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio is all set to release his first solo album The Names next month, and has just recently released the title track. Along with the already released track “Brainwash Yyrr Face,” “Sister of Pearl” explores more of Baio’s sound, which seems to be slightly reminiscent of 80’s pop, and emanates pleasant vibes all around with its bright and nostalgic guitar instrumentals and Chris Baio’s unique vocals. The Names will be released on September 18th.

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photo courtesy of red bull

Mac DeMarco – “No Other Heart”

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Mac DeMarco’s latest album Another One is a beautiful attempt at capturing the feelings of love or, rather, the lack thereof. The eight track LP journeys through the emotions of having a crush on someone to wondering what to do if you ever got the chance to be with that someone, all with hazy instrumentals soaked in a purposely carefree vibe. “No Other Heart” has the same funky beat and inviting lyrics that DeMarco is now exclusively known for, with that soft, smooth tone that just seems out of place with his goofy personality. However, I’ve found through my fascination with him and his music over the past year or so that this is what makes it stand out, and ultimately, a bit more honest.

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photo by Coley Brown

Album Review: Jack + Eliza – Gentle Warnings

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Indie songwriting duo Jack + Eliza have continuously had my attention since the release of their mesmerizing single “Secrets,” which was posted to the site last year. Since then, they have been expanding their hazy, nostalgic dream pop into a full length album, and while it (and they) may seem small at the moment, it’s definitely worth the listen – not only for the lucid, beautiful sounds, but as well as the overall journey into a sun-bleached world that seems more simple and forgiving.

From the first track “One Too Far,” it’s clear that the duo derives most of their inspiration from 1960’s psychedelia, which explains their fascination with groups like The Mamas and The Papas and The Beach Boys. However, in Gentle Warnings, they take a more minimal approach to the same sort of faded, colorful sound and the stripped down, harmony filled tracks become more precious as a result. “Diamonds” brings new meaning to the word sweet, and it’s playful lyrics and delicate vocals never seem rushed or out of tune with each other, which is incredibly important, especially in a group of two whose debut album is exclusively harmonized. Jack Staffen and Eliza Callahan seem to really understand how their voices mesh together, and no other tracks seem to boast that than “Secrets” and “Hold The Line,” two of their first singles. The vintage, almost far away feeling to the instrumentals and the pure, raw emotion presented in the harmonized vocals create a euphoric experience that begs to be replayed over and over again. However, at times, the constant harmonized vocals can start to get draining after a while, and tracks like “Simple Strait” and “On Again” become nothing more than filler, no matter how gorgeous the instrumentation. I found myself repeatedly wishing to hear more of their own voices isolated from each other in order to further understand the magic of how they become intertwined so well, and the fact that this just wasn’t available made Gentle Warnings lose just a little bit of dimension. However, what the album lacks in dimension definitely makes up for in emotion, considering the absolutely gorgeous melancholy feeling that practically swallows up the album. I’m so glad they included bonus track “White Satin,” and judging by it’s intricate, yet somehow simple instrumentation, it’s definitely one of the best tracks the duo has ever done.

I’m always such a sucker for a good nostalgia inducing track, and the fact that with Gentle Warnings I get an entire album filled with them makes me incredibly grateful, even though at times that wish wasn’t exactly what I expected. While the tracks on the album can’t necessarily be played in one sitting, they still feel genuine and played by two people who are clearly passionate about what they do. And most importantly, they still supply a well-needed burst of something absolutely beautiful.

7.2/10

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photo courtesy of artist/ nylon magazine

Majical Cloudz – “Silver Car Crash”

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Majical Cloudz have announced a follow up to their absolutely brilliant debut album Impersonator, and have also released a brief taste of what it has to offer with a new track. “Silver Car Crash” continues the minimal sounds of the debut album, but showcases and explores a more romantic side of the band while also filtering in a bit of nostalgia. While the instrumentation is sparse and metallic at times, the vocals are swapped out with a bright, hopeful sound rather than Devon Welsh’s (whose previously signature bald head has been replaced by a lush, dark head of hair) harsh, yet gorgeous yelp found in Impersonator. The vocals were always the more important part of all the songs that Majical Cloudz have released, and with this track, it only solidifies the intense skill the Montral duo have accumulated over the years. Are You Alone? will be released on October 16th.

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photo courtesy of pitchfork

Ultimate Painting – “Break The Chain”

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Ultimate Painting’s mellow new album Green Lanes is more relaxed than last years self-titled debut, and the lazy melodies and breezy sounds found throughout has slowly been catching my attention over the past few months. The British duo know how to perfect a carefree guitar instrumental, and in their single “Break The Chain,” it seems to be all you hear, wonderfully. The sun bleached, vintage sound that emanates is absolutely mesmerizing, and the rest of the album follows suit, and it definitely demands attention as a result.

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photo courtesy of the line of best fit

Painted Palms – “Tracers”

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Painted Palms’ new album Horizons will be released on September 4th, and already, tracks are being released on soundcloud and receiving well-deserved attention.Their new wave, 80’s inspired sound really jumps out in “Tracers,” a confident, upbeat dance track. The San Francisco based duo’s sophomore album explores a more vintage sound without sacrificing personality, and it’s an attempt worth exploring.

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photo courtesy of artist

Album Review: Teen Daze – Morning World

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Teen Daze’s bedroom recorded electronic dream pop that was heard in his debut All of Us, Together proved to remain in it’s own strange world, and with time, it seems that it’s better that way. His particular take on the chillwave genre is one that strives to briefly make you feel something in the least complex way possible before dissipating with reckless abandon, and as a result, his sound has evolved accordingly. In his new album Morning World, Teen Daze leaves behind that sort of sun-bleached, digital atmosphere and instead attempts nostalgia in a new complex way that evokes something a little deeper.

While the vocals on Morning World aren’t exactly something to write home about, it’s the instrumentals that take center stage throughout the album. They’re the same, quintessential instrumentals that are found in chillwave and dream pop – peppy guitar strums, layered synth, and unashamed simple drumming – and most of the time, it works. Tracks like “Along” and “You Said” seem to have this style embedded within them as well as a jazzy beat, and as a result, are the standout tracks of the album. At this point, one starts to wonder if this is what they really want to soothe their nostalgic induced wounds, and unfortunately, the risk in wanting to secure that sort of outcome is where Morning World takes a dive. The inclusion of orchestral instrumentals, like the cello in opener “Valley of Gardens,” only seem to distract from the real emotions present, despite their gorgeous, alluring sound. Filler tracks like “Life in the Sea” are simple little jaunts, but fail on giving the listener something substantial to latch onto. However, there’s depth in those tracks that want it, and their specificity and expertise in delivering those feelings definitely succeed. Title track “Morning World” is actually one of the best on the album, because while it’s simple, it doesn’t aggressively want to be so. It sort of grooves and moves along on it’s own accord and carefully smooths itself out when there’s a snag. Again, Teen Daze’s vocals aren’t the most impressive, but it only plays up the intense skill that he shows when not fiddling around with digital loops and riffs. At its core, Morning World succeeds in being a fine example of a rural, simple collection of songs that pull at heartstrings, but in a way that wont make them fray and break apart.

Morning World will be released on August 14th. The full album is now streaming on NPR’s website, so go check it out!

7.0/10

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photo courtesy of artist