Foals have always had a very clear vision of where they’re headed and what they’re seeking to achieve. This trait has defined Yannis Philippakis’ musical vision in particular – from his early days in the Oxford scene with his bands Elizabeth and The Edmund Fitzgerald, there’s always been a real drive and clarity to everything he does. As a collective, Foals have become progressively more focused, moving from the twitchy math rock of their debut Antidotes through to the muscular riffing of What Went Down, they’ve made the process of evolution seem positively simple.
When Foals founding member and bass player Walter Gervers left the band at the start of 2018, it could have affected them dramatically. After 12 years with the same line up, a change in the delicate ecosystem of the band could have been unsettling. But they centred on the job at hand and soldiered on. Rather than replace Gervers they worked with the situation and, rather than stripping the band’s sound back, Foals have expanded their sonic palette considerably. There are moments on Everything Not Saved that tap into every step of their career so far, but rather than indulge in the past, they’re still moving forward.
Described as one half of a locket, it’ll only be later in the year that Everything Not Saved can be judged as a whole. Rather than go down the Guns N’ Roses “two albums on one day” route, Foals are releasing this particular project in two separate halves.
Thematically, Philippakis has taken a look at the world and the chaos that seems to be slowly enveloping us. Lack of communication, environmental disaster, political upheaval, fear of the future and existential dread all creep into his lyrics. A fox lies dead in a garden, hedges and cities are on fire, birds crow about the end of the world (although birds have all been wiped out in Exits), black rain pours, and it all seems as if humanity is trapped within a labyrinth of its own making. Yet despite these heavy topics, Foals has remembered that part of what makes them special as a band is their ability to unite people through the sheer power of their music.
Everything Not Saved divides quite neatly into out-and-out floor fillers and more introspective tunes. After the slow fade in of Moonlight, Exits moves straight into familiar territory with its angular rffing and pop hooks. White Onions is perhaps the most straightforward song Foals has written in quite some time, completely embracing a thunderous riff as Philippakis barks about fighting for air and breaking the cage. It’s forceful and shot through with an energy that suggests that, come the revolution, he could well be leading the charge. On The Luna meanwhile embraces the band’s pop sensibilities wholeheartedly, becoming one of their most accessible and successful songs to date in the process. In Degrees meanwhile finds Foals at the centre of a late night club experience, balanced carefully between the moment of outright hedonism and crashing comedown.
Whilst much of the album opts to dance on the eve of armageddon, there’s a clutch of songs that tap into that calmer side of the band that was first established with Spanish Sahara back on Total Life Forever. Syrup is a game of two halves, smouldering on the back of a lolloping bass riff to begin with before picking up the pace for second half. Sunday is genuinely beautiful and finds Philippakis assessing the state of the world over a shimmering accompaniment. Part prog, part electro experiment and with a lineage that can be traced back to the most graceful moments of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Perhaps one of the most complete and fully realised songs in the Foals canon, it’ll be interesting to see if Part II of the project expands on Sunday.
For now, this is an album that establishes Foals as one of the most exciting and driven bands of the generation. Hopefully the world won’t fall apart before the next part of this particular project emerges.