From playing chaotic house parties in their home city of Oxford to becoming major festival headliners across Europe, Foals’ trajectory has been remarkable. They’ve earned critical acclaim (NME and Q Award wins, plus Mercury Prize, Ivor Novello and BRIT Award nominations) and fan devotion (1.7 million sales of their four Gold-certified albums) in equal measure. And while the majority of contemporaries have fallen by the wayside, Foals continue to hit new peaks.
What’s more, they’ve achieved it all on their own terms. “We’ve never been a straight-up pop band, we’ve never tried to make a hit,” observes frontman Yannis Philippakis. “From the beginning, we’ve come at it from an unorthodox angle.”
After more than a decade in the game, Foals again embrace that love for the unconventional with the bravest and most ambitious project of their career: not one, but two astonishing new albums: ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’. A pair of releases, separate but related. They share a title, themes and artwork. “Two halves of the same locket,” Yannis explains, with the first of the pair emerging in March and the second following later in the year.
“They can be listened to and appreciated individually, but fundamentally, they are companion pieces,” he states. Musically they explore uncharted sonic territories for the group. Fundamentally tethered but possessing their own personalities, the two bodies capture the most compelling, ambitious and cohesive creations they’ve ever produced.
The new albums’ journeys began as the ‘What Went Down’ era ended. Founding bassist Walter Gervers departed on amicable terms after playing the Festival Paredes de Coura in Portugal in August 2017. Foals felt that he couldn’t be replaced – a decision that ushered in a period of recalibration, reorganisation and, ultimately, rejuvenation.
After taking a little time out, Yannis, Jimmy (Smith, guitar), Jack (Bevan, drums) and Edwin (Congreave, keys) had decided to self-produce their new music, sharing duties on bass. They began by writing in a rehearsal space before exporting those sketches into the recording phase at 123 Studios, Peckham, with the assistance of engineer Brett Shaw. They’d repeat the cycle between the two spaces, effectively “creating an ongoing feedback loop” as they sought to “push every new idea to the finish line.”
“There was no time pressure, no deadline and no real worry of expense,” says Yannis. “This was the time for us to put our money where our mouth is and itch what’s needed to be scratched for a while, to make Foals 100% concentrated, no dilution.”
While the concept behind the album breaks new ground, the music also finds Foals leaping into new territory. Eager to break the traditional pop song structure which they felt they were becoming increasingly tapered to, the 20 tracks defy expectation. There are exploratory, progressive-tinged tracks which occasionally break the 10-minute mark alongside atmospheric segues which make the music an experience rather than a mere collection of songs. Yet the band’s renowned ability to wield relentless grooves with striking power and skyscraper hooks also reaches new heights.
Lead track ‘Exits’ is case in point, with Philippakis conjuring the image of a disorienting world “upside down” via a contagious vocal melody. It’s a fresh anthem for Foals’ formidable arsenal, but also an ominous forecast.
“There’s a definite idea about the world being no longer habitable in the way that it was,” says Yannis. “A kind of perilousness lack of predictability and a feeling of being overwhelmed by the magnitudes of the problems we face. What’s the response? And what’s the purpose of any response that one individual can have?”
‘Exits’ signposts what to expect thematically from both instalments of ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’. The title is a warning that anything – from the tiniest fleeting moment of inspiration through to the planet’s own biological diversity – can be under threat of being irrevocably erased.
It’s a theme that permeates throughout the album’s material, as Foal mirror the public neuroses that have been provoked by our current cultural climate. Paranoia of state surveillance? Fear of environmental collapse? Anxiety over Trump’s next potentially cataclysmic move? It’s all there in these apocalyptic songs.
It’s particularly evident in the euphoric ‘In Degrees’ which imagines a future “where your ability to talk to each other has been reduced to nothing”. It’s a message that can be interpreted on multiple levels. It could be the personal fear of a failing relationship, or a grand scale, Black Mirror-styled vision of a dystopian future.
This approach is perhaps most vividly captured on ‘Syrups’, and the devastating closing pair of songs on the first album, ‘Sunday’ and ‘I’m Done With The World (& It’s Done With Me)’. The latter is “a song basically written for a future child, having this fear that they’re not going to be able to experience nature in the way we did.”
“Lyrically, there are resonances with what’s going on in the world at the moment,” summarises Yannis. “I wrote the lyrics for this record from the viewpoint of sitting and looking out through a big glass window and wanting to observe the world from the sixth floor of a building. Like having this panoptic view of stuff, rather than writing in a closed room – it was important to start to allow a bit more of that in.”
“I just feel like, what’s the utility of being a musician these days, if you can’t engage with at least some of this stuff?” he continues. “These songs are white flags, or they’re SOSs, or they’re cries for help… each in a different way.”
While the world’s ever more unpredictable ways are potentially something to fear, Foals’ constant willingness to reinvent themselves is something to celebrate.
“We’ve shed different skins as a band. We’ve been a band that have played underground house parties, a band that have played Fabric, rock festivals… we’ve lived a lot of lives,” reflects Yannis, sounding invigorated. “At a time when a lot of the music landscape has changed and fallen away… to still feel as creatively potent as we did in the beginning, if not more so, is the biggest thing. It feels good to feel like we’re an important, interesting, alive band.”
In a contemporary climate of few concrete certainties, Amen to one of them.