Few bands are as underappreciated stateside as Foals. Since the release of Total Life Forever, the band has cultivated an intriguing niche that blends an innovative take on groovy math-rock with aggressive conventional rock elements, all with plenty of hooks to spare (see: “This Orient”; “My Number”). Though the group has developed into a touring force, that success has not translated into record sales or buzz for their latest release. In all likelihood, What Went Down will not mark the band’s breakthrough into the mainstream, which is a damn shame because it is an excellent record.
What Went Down serves as a crystallization of many of the musical ideas of their previous album, Holy Fire, with the band hitting harder with their attacks and crafting bigger choruses. The energetic opening title track and the epic closer “A Knife In The Ocean” are two of the best songs that Foals have written in their career, and serve as the perfect bookends to the album. In between, the band finds some fascinating detours to explore, most notably “Snake Oil”, which does a fantastic job of alternating between motorik and half-time rhythms.
Frontman Yannis Philippakis sounds especially great, and he seems more comfortable than ever with his unique voice. In addition to crafting excellent melodies, Philippakis also effectively shifts between different timbres to evoke a wide variety of emotions, making What Went Down a truly affecting work. The rest of the band does not slack off either, and each member engages in interesting textural experimentation with the group’s signature sound.
It is amazing that Foals are still able to find new avenues to explore within their unique style, and that the band can continue to top themselves with each successive release. Maybe What Went Down will provide the spark for the rest of the American music scene to begin to pay attention to the guys from Oxford.