Foals isn’t the type of band that likes to take the safe route in their music. Their unique art rock approach has lead to numerous worldwide tours, as well as performances at festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury. They broke through the mainstream off of mega-buildup from the British press back in the mid-2000s. In the early 2010s, they broke through on American rock radio with successful singles like “My Number” and “Mountain At My Gates”.
Everything was going smooth until January of 2018, where the band announced the departure of bassist Walter Gervers in the midst of recording their fifth studio album, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1.
With this sudden change, lead man Yannis Philippakis had to tweak Foals’ sound, thus sacrificing some much-needed depth to the production. Their newest record is the first portion of their two-part album series (the second one is set to be released sometime in September of 2019), where Foals’ decides to tackle some of society’s greatest fears through personal storytelling (“On the Luna”).
The group inadvertently takes some of Ladytron’s aesthetic from their recent project, and creates a watered down version of it. Contrary to their British counterparts, Foals finds difficulty in establishing a platform that mirrors Philippakis’s prophetic songwriting. “Exits” is essentially an inferior rendition of Ladytron’s “The Island.” The jittery keys are constructed in a similar manner, with added tempo. The apocalyptic nature of the lyrics (“There’s no birds left to fly/We’ll hide out/Oh, the weather’s against us, houses underground”) have been explored to great lengths on prior projects from other artists (again, like Ladytron) in a more polished and urgent manner.
Despite its abbreviated 39-minute runtime, some songs on Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost tend to overstay its welcome (despite Philippakis telling Apple Music how much he hates albums that are too long). The intriguing xylophone arrangement on “Cafe D’ Athens” grows stale by the two minute mark, where Philippakis loses his steam lyrically. The result is a promising beginning that eventually turns into a B-side Radiohead track. There’s no switch in tempo, which doesn’t help the excitement aspect of the concept either.
There’s themes on Part 1 Everything Not Saved will be Lost that never reach an apex. As beautiful as the synths on “Moonlight” are, Philippakis’s abstract lyricism (“I walked into the dessert/ I walked out of the past/You were riding on a black horse”) leaves a personal cliffhanger that never really gets developed throughout the rest of the album’s track list. Same with the aimless 30-second interlude “Surf Pt.1.” The instrumental clearly indicates a part two on the next Everything Not Saved installment, but without showing what its purpose is. Is it a new direction the band wants to go in stylistically? Or is it something entirely different? These are questions Philippakis and company must answer on their next project.
When Foals finds the right balance of destructive art pop and catastrophic songwriting, the outcome is much more satisfying. The calamitous guitar riff, and nocturnal synths on “White Onions” is a better representation of how Americans feel about our current political turmoil (“I fight for air/Don’t keep me there/I fight for air”) in a nutshell. Even “In Degrees” shows an urgency that lives up to the band’s tendency to tackle larger-than-life themes (loneliness, personal fulfillment and government corruption).
Foals’ inability to recognize the magnitude of their social themes quickly becomes an overlooked problem. The glitz and glamour of the production does an excellent job of hiding the darkness of our world in its current state, without fully realizing how much damage Foals is actually doing. By the end of it all, part one of this series turns into a musical project that lives in a vacuum, acting as if the problems we face aren’t important enough to analyze fully.