Full of ambient experimentation, hard jams and slightly removed vocals, the band Foals has created one of the most engaging albums of 2013. “Holy Fire,” the band’s third release, captures all sides of the band—from the dancy, upbeat “My Number” to the desperate, confessional “Providence.”
The album begins with “Prelude,” an almost experimental, instrumental opener with hazy, nearly indecipherable vocals; it’s a good kick-off for a record that juxtaposes bitter heartbreak and danceable, upbeat tunes and a shredded guitar.
The next track “Inhaler” follows this description with relative accuracy. Short bursts of electronic beats are soon accompanied by a matching, fuzzed-out guitar, over which lead singer Yannis Philippakis moans, “Sticks and stones don’t break my bones, you make believe / It’s lock and load, it’s a dead end road to you and me.” Philippakis’s voice swells to a growling howl at many points in the song, imparting to the listener the emotional toll this relationship has taken.
“Numbers,” while also lyrically sorrowful, follows a more upbeat tune as Philippakis croons, “So people of the city I don’t need your counsel now / And I don’t need that good advice, you don’t have my lover’s touch,” with cries of “woo-oh-oh-ooo” in the background.
A highlight on the record comes in the form of “Bad Habit.” The song begins with a brief deep, electronic bass and industrial-sounding drum taps, succeeded by a generally looser, higher, more optimistic guitar. Philippakis sings, “So I won’t / Let the flowers grow / Into the deep below / Oh, would you forget me now?”
“Late Night” explores the more ambient side of the band. Soft synths accompany an understated guitar riff and simple drumbeat, while Philippakis ponders whether he’s held on too long to a broken relationship. The lyrics, “I’m the last cowboy in this town / Empty veins and my plastic broken crown,” indicate his sadness at what he once thought could be great and lasting.
“Providence” may be the most frightening song on the album, portraying Philippakis at his wits’ end. A ferocious beat, accentuated by heavy electronic and guitar riffs, gives the song its edge, as Philippakas yells about spilled blood and how he’s “an animal just like you,” over and over again until the distorted sounds overwhelm the song to its end. “Stepson” and “Moon” prove to be good ending tracks; they are both softer but pointedly expose the fallout from a breakdown like the one in “Providence.”
Though it may take a couple listens to understand the album, “Holy Fire” is without a doubt one of the most unique records of the year thus far, both musically and lyrically. Clichés of love are traded for true feelings of despair that come from even the best times in a relationship, and the music accurately reflects this feeling—whether it be rage or sadness. Philippakis sums up the album’s feelings well in the song “Moon,” with the lyrics, “And all by the fooling round with daisy chains on our heads / It is coming now, my friend, and it’s the end.”
Rating: 4 stars