Foals: ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’ Part 1 Imagines an Apocalyptic Aquatic Underground
Oxford quartet Foals were originally brought together by a common boredom with the dance music of the day. They set out to create a more interesting alternative through a live band format, drawing from such varied inspirations as minimal techno and technical prog acrobatics, and channeling them into an abstruse but digestible indie rock format. The band has freely shifted shapes over the years, always keeping things engaging, but at times leaving old fans longing for earlier iterations. Their latest release, part one of a double album titled “Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost,” is very much an amalgamation of the various styles that the band has surveyed over the years. As the title suggests, this is a rather macabre affair — not so much sonically, but lyrically. The music runs the gamut, and tackles the full spectrum of emotion, but the songs all express a fear of climate change and technological overreach, and herald such impending doom that one can only imagine the content of part two.
The appropriately-titled “Moonlight” gently opens into an atmospheric soundscape of droning choir snippets. As soon as guitars enter, there’s an elusive aquatic aesthetic — a common feature of Foals’ music, captured in the cover art of 2010’s “Total Life Forever.” The first few moments here are a return to the largely ambient excursions of that record, and when singer Yannis Philippakis’ sonorous voice enters the mix, all the fleeting, shifting sounds around it take purpose. Then come the brittle, percussive guitar lines that have characterized Foals since their earliest days. Instantly the band falls into a groove without quite landing, instead hovering just above marks of static bursts, everything still bubbling and trickling all around, until they finally erupt into full band duty with the first single “Exits.” Philippakis has called the song a “chugger,” and explained its concept as involving “a subterranean world full of labyrinths and staircases,” which sounds about right. A distorted baseline takes charge and drives everything along, while twinkling guitar lines descend every which way, evoking an M.C. Escher construction, although still underwater. Fittingly, Philippakis sings, “The world’s upside down.” It’s the first taste of the apocalyptic theme that runs through the album. Presumably extrapolating from the Snowden revelations, he reminds you, “They watch us in sleep,” and “They got exits covered.”
Come “White Onions,” the band is still jamming in the same realm, cohesive in their own alien sound. The powerhouse of the song is a driving, distorted guitar riff. Philippakis puts on an aggressive snarl, and the group rages on, recalling some of the music of Liars — punk in an alternate universe. It’s notable what a key role percussionist Jack Bevan plays in making the band always sound so tight. At this point, the group take a stylistic detour, and have a total field day on “In Degrees,” their most blatantly dance-oriented number to date. There’s a definite Madchester vibe, replete with supersaturated color and quintessentially British erratic dance moves. Continuing in the same vein as on “Exits,” Philippakis makes a clever pun on computer “bits,” foreboding, “Bit by bit and day by day / I know we’ve lost our way.”
Things mellow out on “Syrups,” with an insistent bassline leading the way. The crew jam out in the most natural, immediate way so far, filling the open space with some dueling guitars. The dystopian landscape begins to really take shape, as Philippakis describes, “The robots have made the rounds / Sand dunes filled up all our towns.” He zeroes in on the idea of a generation left to suffer the neglect of special interests, singing of “when I fall from the wagon / Hiding from the businessmen.” A midway tempo shift ensues, and he takes up a distorted croon, grounding Foals’ sound in the aughts post-punk revival scene that gave birth to it. As if to issue a disclaimer, the next song, “On the Luna” takes that template, severs and warps it every which way, reminding you what has always set Foals apart from their peers. The band employ the usual machinery — layers of angular stop-start riffage and all the works — but all designedly off-kilter, with an odd time signature just safe enough to allow access. Fears of global warming take a tongue-and-cheek form here, with lines like “I was keeping it cool with Cryo.” In the most direct political reference, he mentions “Trump clogging up my computer,” followed by a somewhat puzzling inversion of Sartre’s “No Exit” in the lines “They say that heaven is other people / But the other side’s defo evil.”
Next, the band channel their offtime tendencies into a more subdued avenue, trading the punk underpinnings for more of a jazz fusion substrate with “Cafe d’Athens.” Over xylophone, vibraphone, and marimba, Philippakis bellows away, very much in the style of Thom Yorke without the least concern for enunciation. It all evolves into a glitchy, clankering, techno-informed meander that ends in a glorious cacophony. “Sunday” follows as a moment of relative calm, and pans out from the preceding frenzy into a sprawling number, seemingly meant to unite an arena of fans in concerted acknowledgments of collective doom and gloom. Midway, it suddenly launches into another dancey indulgence that is very, very Underworld. Think a crazed frontman locked into endless convulsions, over shakers and ricketing pans of all sorts, until an epic climax. The correspondingly emphatic lyrics include lines like “The birds are all singing, ‘It’s the end of the world,’” Finally, Philippakis puts the nail in the coffin in a brief, fractured meditation titled, “I’m Done with the World (& It’s Done with Me.)”
Considering the title of the final track, it would be funny if the band chose to release a completely blank record as part two of the album. After all, what other options are there? Perhaps it will be a meditation on the afterlife. At any rate, the first installment is quite an effort. Foals has always crafted a sound of its own, with relative hits and misses along the way, and this record could possibly be the most thoroughly realized undertaking yet. The guitars sound like sculpted shards of glass, and the music like a collage meticulously split and reassembled. The instruments’ timbres blend into one another, making it unclear exactly what’s what in the grand concerted mess, and paralleling the confused dejection of the lyrics. Ironically all the grim foreboding comes with bits of Foals’ most groove-based music yet, as if the band members have given up hope, thrown caution to the wind, and taken to the dancefloor. When the apocalypse arrives, you’ll have the soundtrack ready.
“Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Part 1” is available March 8 on Apple Music.