Album Of The Week – Night On The Sun / Modest Mouse

mmnots

A Night On The Sun is neither a new release or an album, but has been reissued by Isaac Brock’s label, Glacial Pace. It was initially a precursor to their third album, The Moon And Antarctica, and fittingly covers the same topics that Brock and co. were into at the time, mostly space and humanity. They had evolved from the punkiness of The Lonesome Crowded West and had added more layers to their music, incorporating the acoustic guitar that would fill up Brock’s first (and only) solo album as Ugly Casanova. It doesn’t have the same forceful impact; Isaac Brock doesn’t strain his vocals as much as he did on ‘Shit Luck’, but instead of shouting his words through, he has to sharpen them to have more of an impression. ‘You were the dull sound of sharp math when you were alive / no one’s gonna play the harp when you die’ springs to mind on the otherwise peaceful ‘Lives’, which brings the acoustic guitar right to the front. Modest Mouse had done this before, both with acoustic guitar and banjo, but those were moments of quiet like ‘Bankrupt On Selling’, not these drops of knowledge and criticism.

It’s confusing how the lead song didn’t end up on The Moon And Antarctica, and even though it comes in at 9 and a half minutes, an edited version didn’t show up either, which is strange as it has some of the strongest imagery Brock has ever come up with: ‘Freeze your blood and then stab it into, in two / Stab your blood into me and blend’ and ‘There’s one thing to know about this earth / We’re put here just to make more dirt and that’s okay’. Simultaneously, Modest Mouse conquer the otherworldly questions and the most basic human needs. The ‘blood’ might seem like an unusual metaphor, but the references to blood, stabbing and merging are ways of voicing a desire to be close to someone else, so close that you are literally the blood running through their veins; blood that is a combination of theirs and yours. ‘Night On The Sun’ might be the most traditional Modest Mouse song on the EP, with the ambling guitar line, crescendos and Jeremiah Green’s drumming.

It’s probably key to remember that A Night On The Sun was initially just a demo tape for Modest Mouse’s new major label Epic, so the 18 second track of Jeremiah Green speaking Japanese, or the inferior version of ‘Lives’, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. ‘Wild Pack Of Family Dogs’ is exactly the same, but both the title track and ‘You’re The Good Things’ got left off The Moon And Antarctica. Therefore, it’s a mish-mash, like a lot of Modest Mouse EPs tend to be. There’s so many, with so much crossover that they sometimes seem like tying up loose ends, which is probably what they are. But often there are gems in the middle, like the title track of this EP, or ‘Summer’ on The Fruit That Ate Itself. 

Funnel Recommends: Night On The Sun / You’re The Good Things / Lives

New Music – Um Chagga Lagga / Pixies

Pixies are back again with a new bassist, Paz Lenchantin, who doesn’t try to fill Kim Deal’s shoes and instead comes across as a more aggressive and frantic backing vocalist to Black Francis’ howling. The song is strange, as per normal for Pixies. The lyrics are like some kind of story where the protagonist is being chased, and from the sirens, it sounds like the police. Then there’s the chorus of ‘Um Chagga Lagga by the side of the road’ and ‘All night long I heard you moan’, which doesn’t leave much to the imagination. It’s not unusual for Pixies to incorporate sex and violence into their lyrics, and their holy trinity of sex, violence and religion is just one ‘holy fingers’ reference away. The instrumentation is a little basic, but the guitar tone is so clunky and heavy that it’s kind of endearing.

Album Review – Human Performance / Parquet Courts

d5a30e2eParquet Courts have quietly been refining their sound since 2014’s Sunbathing Animal, deviating from the breakneck punk of Light Up Gold and Tally All The Things You Broke EP to somewhere in the middle of mid-tempo cowpunk or stretched out indie-rock such as ‘Pretty Machines’ from 2014’s criminally underrated Content Nausea. As you might have guessed if you didn’t know already, Parquet Courts are a prolific band. With every release they press new buttons, sometimes coming across gold like Content Nausea and other times not-so-good projects such as last years’ Monastic Living EP. This new album has already been greeted as the new great step forward for Parquet Courts. And it is. They still dabble in highfalutin concepts (their frontman Andrew Savage has talked about his thoughts on ‘human performance’ in several interviews) but their sound has opened up into a more nuanced performance, with keys, other vocalists, synths and sometimes even less violent guitar-playing. In fact, the two bands that Parquet Courts now resemble is a punkier R.E.M. or the Velvet Underground (Compare ‘Steady On My Mind’ with ‘Lady Godiva’s Operation’). It’s a perfect little niche to find themselves in, still writing the occasional furious punk song but then slotting a laid-back pop song into the mix. Parquet Courts have found their home, even if they might not stay there long.

The singles boded well for Human Performance. ‘Dust’ was a shuffling rocker with the introduction of keys and a minimalistic portrait of crushing anxiety and claustrophobia, something Parquet Courts are well versed in at this point. Then ‘Berlin Got Blurry’ came along, all spaghetti-western and stream-of-consciousness ramblings by Savage, as he rifles through typically wordy lyrics such as ‘Döner wrapper done right / An extinguished crutch of a rollie inside yellow fingers’, but the verse ending of ‘Berlin got blurry and my heart started hurting for you’ was an unusually direct show of emotion from Savage. Finally, ‘Human Performance’ arrived, with further examples of Savage opening up further with lyrics like ‘I told you I loved you / Did I even deserve it when you returned it’. ‘Human Performance’, the song, drifts between his confessions of love and him playing at a gig, which ties in with the theme of ‘human performance’. Savage previously questioned whether performing can pass as authentic expression if it isn’t a faithful representation of the person performing. This thinking is translated into his love life, where he sings ‘phantom affection gives a human performance’ as if he’s tricking himself into performing a natural human routine – relationships and so on – in order to convince himself he’s living a normal life. If in previous albums, Savage and co-songwriter Austin Brown have explored anxiety, then this is a completely new chapter. They don’t announce it as directly as they did before, but it’s implicitly there.

There’s instrumental expansion as well as lyrical expansion. Parquet Courts have been known for their punky side, but never before have they incorporated so much extra stuff into their sound. Often those extra instruments is what makes the song memorable, for example ‘Dust’ is the organ/keys song (it also features Jeff Tweedy on guitar as a bonus), ‘One Man No City’ is the bongos song and ‘Captive Of The Sun’ is the creepy glockenspiel song, or at least that’s what we think it is; it could easily be a synth. ‘Captive Of The Sun’ gets the award for best song on Human Performance because it combines Parquet Courts’ knack for words with instrumental oddities and sounds that they haven’t played with before. Austin Brown, who takes on vocal duties on more songs than ever, spits out rapid-fire surreal imagery like ‘Half-tone harmony from the sewer’ and ‘Trucks pave the roads with amphetamine salt’. After Content Nausea, which had songs that lived and breathed New York, ‘Captive Of The Sun’ could’ve slotted straight onto that mini-LP. Many would describe the sights of New York, but Brown turns it into a clattering orchestra of sounds from the sewer, the smashing of glass, the train, dogs barking. It’s uplifting and uneasy at the same time, as Brown opens with ‘My misophonia’, or his hatred of sound.

Human Performance is the best Parquet Courts album without a doubt. It’s another tightly written and performed album, but this time there’s more variation in the performance, a twist on their typical subject matter and more input from bassist Sean Yeaton, who sings on ‘I Was Just Here’, and Brown, who is credited with playing the car* in the credits. It’s more of a band and less of Andrew Savage running the show. That’s not to say he’s not the frontman anymore, he’s just pulling the strings behind the scenes and organising the sound of the album. Just when the band were beginning to sound a little tired and stale, they’ve vastly improved upon the experimentation of Content Nausea and Monastic Living into a perfect sweet spot upon which their older material is buried into the fibres of the new songs, but there’s so much more to offer here from the repetitive nature of Sunbathing Animal. They can only go upwards from here.

8

Funnel Recommends: Human Performance / Captive Of The Sun / Berlin Got Blurry

*Correction: It is Andrew Savage who ‘plays’ the car.

Track Review – Dust / Parquet Courts

One of the most prolific bands this side of Ty Segall are back again with their fourth album (third if we’re not counting the hard-to-get American Specialties). Their last release, Monastic Living, didn’t exactly go down well here, but we’re willing to let pretentious noise-rock experimentation slide if it’s just a dip into unknown territories. And that’s exactly what ‘Dust’ suggests, albeit without leaving behind the noisier parts of that entirely. It’s true to say that ‘Dust’ is nowhere near as wordy as something like ‘Content Nausea’ or ‘Sunbathing Animal’, but Andrew Savage restraining himself from speaking every word in the known vocabulary has worked out pretty well for their next step. ‘Dust is everywhere / Sweep’ is probably as minimalist as Savage is going to go, which is something for Andrew Savage. There’s spaces for interpretation in their newfound lack of lyrics, whereas before it was very clear what Savage was on about.

The instrumental style is firmly in the Content Nausea – their hugely underrated mini-LP –  sector with its americana-by-punk dustiness (no pun intended) which echoes their homeland of Texas and makes them a bit different from your average punk band. Cowpunk might be a stretch, there’s more Sonic Youth in the latter section than the Cramps, but it’s definitely there. The repetition in the bass and drums lends itself to a resemblance to their longer songs ‘Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth’ or ‘Instant Disassembly’ and while those songs can drag, the repetition goes hand in hand with the conciseness of the track, coupled with the noisy ending that brings a conclusion to the built-up tension. A breath of relief after Monastic Living. 

Track Review – The Wheel / PJ Harvey

Everyone liked Let England Shake, PJ Harvey’s last album, but the first taste of her new album is somewhat more traditional to her older style instrumentally, whilst the lyrical topics are still very much in keeping with the war imagery she’s been working with. The style of music Polly Jean Harvey is playing with on this new track is somewhere in the middle of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea and To Bring You My Love, mostly for the hip-shaking value that the first wordless minute brings. The song is driven by the same propulsion that tracks like ‘This Is Love’ or the snake-like drums of ‘Working For The Man’. However, PJ Harvey has never established her footing as quickly as she does on ‘The Wheel’, throwing in a guitar solo from the beginning, which wriggles underneath for the minute with a the drumbeat and handclaps making the track sound more like an aggressive irish jig than anything from Let England Shake.

Children are all over the lyrics of ‘The Wheel’, hiding behind vehicles, flying out and disappearing. As Harvey repeats in the outro, ‘And watch them fade out’, you can’t help thinking of the shadows of the dead left on the wall after the nuclear bomb hit Hiroshima and Harvey wanting to preserve the memories of the innocent people who have died as a result of someone else’s conflict, which wouldn’t be a surprising reference point with Harvey still interested in writing about war, and it’s a good job someone who is a big name is talking about war, because who else is really? The track’s instrumental can seem repetitive, especially by the time the minute intro has ended and the song being nearly six minutes long, plus the outro ends so jarringly you’d half expect the track to lead into another on the album. But another PJ Harvey album is always something to celebrate, especially if she’s planning on dragging the narrative into the 21st century and out of the WWI story of Let England Shake. 

Track Review – Shivers / Courtney Barnett (Rowland S. Howard cover)

Courtney Barnett’s debut this year showed her talent as a wordsmith and a songwriter. Her debut Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit was a solid collection of garage-rock tunes and brought her music to the wider world with songs like ‘Pedestrian At Best’ and ‘Depression’. However, she’s covered Rowland S. Howard’s ‘Shivers’ at Jack White’s Third Man song factory and it’s a match made in heaven. The song sounds dusty and old; Courtney’s vocals lingering in the background with a touch of reverb but the instruments – especially the guitars – are recorded perfectly. Those guitars clunk away in a southern blues-rock tone that sounds ageless and could have appeared in some kind of slow-burning 60s rock song. Courtney’s deadpan vocals don’t fit the emotional heft of the song, but the respect for the original is definitely there.

Album Review – Sore / Dilly Dally

soreFrom the opening moments of ‘Desire’, Katie Monks establishes her voice with a count-in that might be for technical purposes, but really it just throws her vocals right in the face from the off. It would be stupid not to recognise Monks’ voice as one of the key incentives to Dilly Dally’s music. She’s purposefully sloppy, she slurs, she drags her syllables out of timing until it sounds like Monks is playing to her own sound and her own song. But it works. Comparisons to both Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love aside, Monks is a formidable presence on her own; her screams are hollow and guttural on ‘Ballin’ Chain’ and she can tone it down to a slurred delivery on ‘Desire’. It would also be wrong to disregard the rest of Dilly Dally. Liz Ball, the lead guitarist, is capable of some Sonic-Youth-worthy lines, such as on ‘Purple Rage’ or ‘Witch Man’, which has a solo ripped straight from the 90s alt-rock-manual. The band pull together for something special, putting their influences on show and also providing tortured, journal-like lyricism.

When Katie Monks has the opportunity to throw her weight around with the full backing of the band behind her then Dilly Dally excel. ‘Desire’, the first single and definitive anthem of Dilly Dally is a mixture of all of the best bits of the band. The verses consist of some of the sweetest vocals and lyrics Monks has written yet as she discovers the aggression behind any kind of longing. She sings ‘chocolate legs dangling from the ceiling again’ and ‘It’s calling on me lately’ as the band pulls together behind her for what is most likely to be their ‘hit’. It has a ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ anti-anthemicness about it, like a reluctant success. The hits follow through on songs like ‘Green’ or ‘Ballin’ Chain’, with the former being an early single and the latter being a new song. In fact, Dilly Dally don’t want to erase their early songs from their catalogue, ‘Next Gold’ was also their first release. The absence of the slow burners ‘Candy Mountain’ or ‘Alexander’ suggests that Dilly Dally only wanted to put out their most aggressive songs. Granted, aggression suits them well, but the likes of ‘Candy Mountain’ contain the same teenage longing and anger at a slower pace.

Don’t think every song on here is a short, spiky punk thrash. ‘Get To You’ has echoes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Show Your Bones in its atmospheric tremolo playing. Monks growls ‘But I’m still trying’ in the chorus, repeated again and again with sweet backing vocals ‘To get to you’ trying their hardest to mismatch the grungey guitars. Dilly Dally love mixing sweet with sour on Sore, from the sickly album cover and Monks occasionally heartfelt lyrics with something much darker from the instrumentation and her voice. It feels like a tribute to Riot Grrrl if anything, which took a lot of fun from pasting their fanzines in glitter and colour, but what the bands were speaking about was the exact opposite. It was gritty and real and dark, and that’s the exact same thing Dilly Dally are doing here. ‘Green’ is probably their biggest example of this. The opening lyrics ‘I want you / naked in my kitchen / making me breakfast’ is simple, bordering on conscious dullness. However, that’s completely upturned by the chorus of ‘Cause I need food and I need light / And I need you / Just because my heart is clean doesn’t mean it’s new’. It’s a killer lyric, partly because it’s so simple but complex at the same time. Monks delivers it like it’s just another line, but it’s the most emotional she gets. When the rawness gets exposed, it’s gruesome but it’s eye-opening.

The album rarely dives into slumps, aside maybe from a couple tracks here and there (only ‘The Touch’ and ‘Ice Cream’ spring to mind). The band consistently plays well, with Liz Ball’s screaming lines visible over Monks grungey power chords and Benjamin Reinhartz’ drumming just about passing for ‘maniac’. If you need a perfect example of the band all at work at once, ‘Ballin’ Chain’ is probably your go-to track. Monks’ ungodly scream at the end of the track tops off her song about dragging someone around like a ball and chain but her chorus ‘I miss you, I miss you, I miss you’ says something entirely different, but it makes sense in Monks’ world of opinions that can’t make their mind up and end up next to each other, contradicting each other. It’s confused and fuzzy, but hey, that’s rock, right?

After releasing so many good singles up to this point, there was always the risk that Sore would make Dilly Dally a singles band more than a full-length band. Fortunately, that isn’t true at all as Sore is the most complete Dilly Dally have ever sounded. They make teen poetry and grunge obsession sound like it could actually work. Monks’ presence is both what grounds Dilly Dally and makes them fly off the leash every now and again like on ‘Desire’, ‘Ballin’ Chain’ or ‘Green’. They can easily pull back and withdraw to a dangerous animal in the corner or simply attack from the off and that dynamic is missing from all-aggression punk. The vulnerability is tangible and makes them human and it also makes an amazing record.

8/10

Funnel Recommends: Desire / Ballin’ Chain / Green

Album Review – Anthems For Doomed Youth / The Libertines

You might not believe me, but the Libertines just released an album. For the last decade, the idea that the Libertines would get back together and record again seemed nigh impossible, marred by internal conflicts between Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, hit-or-miss side-projects and the sense that the dream of the Libertines had well and truly died. Though the Libertines played sloppy alternative rock back in the day, their lyrics, their ear for pop was the centre of the Libertines appeal. Doherty and Barat’s love for everything World War I, rose-tinted nostalgia for pre-war Britain mixed with modern description of drug dens, their Camden haunts and life barely above the poverty line brought them into the twenty-first century. But here’s another Libertines album, full of the same things they talked about before, but perhaps with a more mature overview over everything that has happened since their last album, 2004’s The Libertines. It’s surprisingly cohesive; the most technically proficient and well-crafted album they’ve made since Up The Bracket, which was their debut and a class in rowdy sloppiness. The worries about a pop producer, Jake Gosling, are thankfully unfounded as he does little to clean up the Libertines act beyond the glossy pop production that landed ‘Gunga Din’ back on Radio 1 alongside the likes of early Libertines singles ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ or ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’.

Another worry was the amount of new material the Libertines have arrived with. Surely they can’t still write good songs? As side-projects have shown, both Doherty and Barat can still write decent songs, but when they come together they can write future favourites ‘Heart Of The Matter’ or ‘Glasgow Coma Scale Blues’. The only old song returning is ‘You’re My Waterloo’, a Doherty-fronted ballad that mostly lives up to old interpretations, except for a farty orchestral section that pops in now in then. Even though the Libertines aim for emotional highs, even ballads like ‘You’re My Waterloo’ have their own rough edges on it. Doherty self-references ‘You’ll never fumigate the demons / no matter how much you smoke’ with heavy pianos. Anthems For Doomed Youth seems intent on letting Doherty and Barat spill their guts all over the lyrics, with the duo often trading the admitting of regret and biting remarks.

Anthems For Doomed Youth is also the most the Libertines have sounded like their influences. ‘Barbarians’ is a near-perfect rip of ‘That’s Entertainment’ by the Jam and ‘Fury of the Chonburi’ sounds like the Libertines doing their best Clash impression, from the chanted chorus to the simplistic punk instrumentation. It’s by no means a bad rip-off, it mostly goes off without a hitch, from the bridge which sounds like the Doherty and Barat attacked each other with their guitars and Gary Powell’s furious drumming. Another punk highlight is ‘Glasgow Coma Scale Blues’, which has the best start to a track on the album. The vocals, which are a little quirky during the verse, turn into a chorus with the same anthemic nature as ‘Gunga Din’ does, without the weird reggae beat. The shrieking guitar that cuts over the rest of the track finally injects some energy into an album that’s solid but now and then just needs a shot of angry lyrics or instrumentation to liven the album up – something that came in bucketloads on Up The Bracket.

It wouldn’t be a Libertines album without some missteps. ‘Belly of the Beast’, ‘Iceman’ and ‘Fame And Fortune’ are either stuck in nostalgic lyrics or nothing really happens for three minutes. ‘Fame And Fortune’ stands alongside ‘Gunga Din’ for cringe-factor with its odd synth bridge and post-chorus sections and its military-and-London-loving lyrics which don’t exactly ring with the same rose-tinted glory that they did back in the Libertines heyday. The same stands for ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’ with its Wilfred Owen-referencing title and mentions of ‘Cromwell’ and ‘Orwell’. For a band that seemed so effortlessly cool in 2002 now it’s just sad considering all that the band have been through. The best moments come in self-reflection, usually on Doherty’s part, when on ‘The Heart Of The Matter’ he sings ‘ Let’s get straight to the heart of the matter / so glum, it’s all on a platter’. You get the sense that Doherty regrets the decisions he made at the end of the Libertines first run and Anthems For Doomed Youth is his attempt to repair the mistakes both he and Barat made and put into a song what he couldn’t say in interviews, reunion announcements and side-projects.

This album could have been a whole lot worse. In an age of disappointing reunions this year has already had both Blur and Sleater Kinney return with solid-to-pretty-damn-good albums. The Libertines have not made a bad album in Anthems For Doomed Youth, but even in their prime they couldn’t release albums to live up to their attitude or live shows. Even if this album wasn’t so good, it would finally bring to a close the saga of the Libertines, maddeningly left open-ended back in 2005 and the 2010 reunion shows. If this record is anything to go by, they could easily do another one. Their appeal hasn’t gone away, the pop producer didn’t sand them down into an alternative band on a silver platter for radio, their lyrics are still as sharp as ever. Even after not being together for ten years, that’s testament to a good band.

6/10

Funnel Recommends: The Heart of the Matter / Glasgow Coma Scale Blues / You’re My Waterloo

Track Review – The Road / The Big Moon

Hot on the heels of their first single, ‘Sucker’, ‘The Road’ is a slow-burning track which eventually leads up to the kind of guitar wankery you’d expect in a Led Zeppelin song. Finally, we get to hear what The Big Moon sound like when they aren’t going full-throttle indie-rock, and it’s very refreshing. Granted, familiar instrumentation eventually fades in; razorblade guitar and all, but there’s also a funky guitar plucked and an organ that wheezes in the bridge. They sing ‘Now I’m not the same / I’ve got no reason to stay’ and ‘Throw me a bone / the night it trickles like the sleeping sand’, the former standing alongside the Big Moon’s direct approach to lyrics, while the latter verges on faux-poetic imagery.

The song, though quieter, is just as brash when it comes to a close. I’d have hoped for more of a gradual build and decline than some misty-eyed solowork, but the impact that the distorted guitar makes leaves a firm imprint in the wishy-washy organ and slacker-rock guitar that the rest of the track uses. The vocals always has a youthful vibrancy to it, full of shy ‘oo-oo’s and yelps along with the moody vocals courtesy of Juliette Jackson. Most importantly, this sounds like they are having fun, more than anything; something many bands forget to have.

Album Review – What Went Down / Foals

If you’d seen Foals of 2008 – scrappy, math-rock inclined ‘intellectuals’ – you wouldn’t believe the position they are in right now. 2013’s Holy Fire was a watershed moment, with ‘Inhaler’ and ‘My Number’ breaking into the charts and the album a critical and commercial success. They were headlining minor festivals. There was no-where left to go but up and the pop-orientated move was a good idea. For all I love their weird niches in their origins, they were built to rise up and position themselves as among the headliners in British rock – Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Blur, Kasabian. Whilst Foals might not fit straight into the macho-riffing of some of those groups, it’s in their diversity that they become good. Mixing strong pop singles ‘Mountain At My Gates’ with some more eclectic songs such as ‘Night Swimmers’. However on What Went Down the conversion to rock titans is pretty much complete and that definitely has its pros and cons. At it’s worst, What Went Down just doesn’t sound like Foals, coming off more like the band Yannis Philippakis, vocalist and guitarist once criticised – Arctic Monkeys. When that doesn’t happen, the originality of Foals returns, complete with funky drums, cryptic lyrics and pounding crescendos. It’s infuriatingly tantalising.

‘Mountain At My Gates’ is what happens when Foals write a pop song. Passed off as another ‘My Number’, it contains more instrumental experimentation (funk, reggae steel drums) that the former, plus a fantastic hook on the chorus. For a song about paranoia and the guiding light of a person, it’s positively euphoric, especially at the climax, which has a guitar solo that manages to punch through the clatter. Like a lot of Foals songs, drummer Jack Bevan has to be commended for keeping time and keeping his furious drumming going during the end of ‘Mountain At My Gates’. ‘Birch Tree’, the third song on the album (and the only one that hasn’t been heard prior yet) begins a little bit like a sped up ‘Spanish Sahara’, but then a mixture of synthetic and physical drums pop in, followed by a guitar line that’s nostalgic towards early Foals. However, the chorus is pretty familiar if you know your ‘My Number’ well enough. The chorus is repetitive ‘Come meet me by the river / see how time it flows’, but works well enough. It’s not the greatest song in lyrics ‘my heart’s an old black panther / corrupted financier’ or experimentation for Foals, but it has single quality.

Your dose of Foals instrumental hammering comes in the form of ‘Albatross’. A couple of other songs have crescendos, such as ‘Knife In The Ocean’, but ‘Albatross’ does it best because it has the full package. Philippakis sings ‘You’ve got an albatross around your neck’ with drums that sound like an especially intense cowbell, something I thought I’d never compliment a band on. The madness at the end doesn’t break out, it gradually builds and builds, like the best Foals songs. Speaking of the best Foals songs, ‘Night Swimmers’ comes out of nowhere like ‘Cassius’ or ‘Olympic Airways’ from Antidotes. The lean drums and twitchy guitars are reminders that Foals can still deploy dancey math-rock when they feel like it. Philippakis sings ‘We swim under the moon’ and ‘Under the flaming sky’ with some beautiful imagery, before the song takes a dive into ‘Inhaler’ rock riffs, where they are finally put to good use. As always, Philippakis uses a lot of nature in his lyrics to veil any kind of meaning. However, as his songs get more direct it becomes easier to interpret his songs as paranoid, urban claustrophobia lyrics. Now where have I heard that before?

Then we have ‘Snake Oil’, which is where Foals sound the most like their contemporaries. The chorus riff sounds like something Queens of the Stone Age would have slotted onto their last album and the dance-punk vibe in the verse sounds like Death From Above 1979 of all things. In the hyper-masculine rock environment Foals can’t compete – their heavy tone sounds good but in the production it loses bite and power. This should sound like a White Stripes / early Modest Mouse mash up, but instead it has a shiny ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ AM side to it. That’s what Foals asked for when they got in James Ford on production, who worked on AM two years ago.

Unlike Holy Fire, there is a suspicious lack of quieter, atmospheric songs and that’s a real shame. Only ‘London Thunder’ and ‘Give It All’ (For a little while) appear as quiet songs and neither can match the one-two of ‘Moon’ and ‘Stepson’ from Holy Fire. Seeing as some of the best Foals songs are the quiet ones the lack of anything to break up the pop/rock alternation is a huge miss.

Foals are not going back to experimental math-rock. They’ve gone too far for that, and I think Foals aren’t too unhappy with the success as to release their own Kid A. The Radiohead comparisons that have plagued them since the start are most apparent here and on Holy Fire though. It feels like their OK Computer, though the level of success that is about to greet them is debatable. From Philippakis’ fiery frontmanship and cryptic lyrics begging looking into and the twitchy instrumentation, it’s funny how similar the two albums are, almost twenty years apart. As to how good What Went Down is, it has it’s moments. ‘Lonely Hunter’, ‘What Went Down’, ‘Albatross’ and ‘Mountain At My Gates’ stand up against anything Foals have done before, and now it’s so much more accessible. When Foals show their own originality, they shine brightly as one of British rock’s best bands, but when they sound blatantly like the bands that they should oppose, it’s frustrating. In any case, What Went Down is the key next step for Foals and I’m looking forward to see where they go from here.

7/10

Funnel Recommends: What Went Down / Albatross / London Thunder