SAINT-RÉMY-DE-PROVENCE is famed for its violent, maddening mistral wind and the fact that the post-ear-severing Vincent Van Gogh, trying to find some equilibrium there at the Saint-Paul asylum in 1889, looked heavenwards and saw the swirls of The Starry Night.
Recording in the town’s La Fabrique studio facility seems to have had a suitably stirring effect on Foals – even if there thankfully isn’t a Van Gogh-like state of self-destructive agitation evident, there is anxiety and disorientation from the off, in the propulsive Stooges-cum-Nirvana panic attack of the (for them) never-heavier title track. “When I see a man, I see a lion,” frontman Yannis Philippakis repeat-screams at its thrilling conclusion, like a man trying to run fast enough to escape his own skin.
The fact that this most muscly and manic of rock songs kicks off What Went Down only serves to underline how Foals can’t be second guessed. From the almost forbiddingly fiddly math rock of their 2008 debut Antidotes, they have expanded outwards and grown more inviting.
En route, their sound has polarised into two distinct extremes: teeth-grinding rock and dance tracks unafraid to revive stylistic ‘80s tropes deemed hellishly unfashionable in the ‘90s (synthetic brass stabs; clean, wristy funk guitar figures).
Foals consolidate their position here by continuing to do what they do best, namely expressing big emotions loudly through fizzing rock anger or unbridled, danceable joy.
Watch a video sampling songs from What Went Down.
This is an abridged version of the review that appeared in our September 2015 issue (#262). For the full text, exclusive illustration and an interview with Yannis Philippakis order an issue online now