The cumulative buzz that Foals generate with each album release is nothing short of astounding, but it’s cleverly planned. 2013’s Holy Fire was unleashed to the world off the back of the hype of the riff-heavy ‘Inhaler’ and intricate pop-funk of ‘My Number’, and What Went Down follows a similar strategy. The relentless smash ‘n’ grab nature of the title track harks back to their earlier math-rock ideals on début Antidotes, although with a bit more meat on the bones, and it’s coupled with the slick groove of ‘Mountain At My Gates’ that is contorted into a pounding breakdown that still somehow retains coherence. If Foals had ramped up their game before release date, then they have sent expectation into the stratosphere with the full unveiling.
The Oxford five-piece have always been able to successfully blend heavy with soft, dark with hopeful, pleasantries with downright filth. What Went Down sees Foals immerse themselves further in the extremes. The hazy beauty of ‘Give It All’ is made all the more powerful by Yannis Philippakis’s longing howls atop a washed-out synth backdrop, and that same yearning makes ‘Snake Oil’ so brutal and closing track ‘A Knife In The Ocean’ so harrowing. Foals’s musical adaptability is what makes them such a compelling act and is a big factor in why What Went Down works so well as an album when, on first listen, it perhaps sounds a little disorganised, a little idea-less.
Foals are a thinking person’s band, though. They could have just put out an album of ten ‘My Number’ replicas and taken number one, but they didn’t. Instead, they experiment and keep everyone, including themselves, guessing as to where they’ll go next. They have probably gone as dark thematically as they’ll ever go on What Went Down, and the overwhelming musical feeling evoked from this record is one of self-acceptance, flaws and all.
It is best summed up on ‘Night Swimmers’, one of the most introspective disco songs since LCD Soundsystem’s ‘I Can Change’, with Yannis barking across a backbeat drum machines to “get up again”. This is the second coming of 21st century indie – self-aware and fearless.