Ever since they teased us with a 12-second clip in early June that eventually turned out to be a snippet of What Went Down’s title track, it’s fair to say there’s been a pretty huge amount of anticipation for Foals’ fourth studio record. More intrigue resulted from an interview that front-man Yannis Phillipakis did with triple j, where he suggests that the band were only just beginning to hit their straps as a band and that he expected their best work to come on their seventh or even eight albums. Perhaps this was a soft reference to their somewhat disappointing third album Holy Fire, which was really held up by the brilliance of a few singles; My Number, Late Night and Inhaler.
Regardless, What Went Down is kind of exactly what you’d expect from Foals at this point in time. This latest creative effort seems to channel the varying styles of previous albums and does so in the most satisfying and successful way. It is also manifestly more effective at bringing together the many styles of group than Holy Fire was able to.
As has been the case with their last two LPs, Foals have included an epic ballad titled A Knife In The Ocean. This is a trend that began two albums ago with the shockingly amazing Spanish Sahara, and on this particular record A Knife In The Ocean is testament to the ability of Foals to not only build gripping tension throughout a track, as well as having the ability captivate an audience for an extended period.
What Went Down also includes several tracks that follow what seems to be this growing trend for the group towards a slower, more introspective style of song. Tracks such as these illustrate just how far the band has come since the fiddly and often substance-lacking guitar licks that dominated their first LP Antidotes. Give It All is one such track within this more chiller style, but it is dwarfed by the darkness and emotion of London Thunder. London Thunder is truly a momentous tune both musically and lyrically, and it makes subtle references to the journey the group undertaken as well as their origins, with deeply emotional lyrics like “Come back to London Thunder, the sound of sorrow in my room… and now the tables turn, it’s over, and with my fingers burned I start a new”.
Finally we start to get into the luminous funk that those who’ve been listening since Antidotes have come to expect from Yannis, Jack and co. Night Swimmers throws back to the gorgeously light guitar countermelodies that caught the ears of many back in 2008, whilst also getting into some gritty bass. Similar ideas are explored in the funky Birch Tree, which is also definitely their most audience friendly sing-a-long track, and also is a prime example of how far Yannis’ vocals have come since he was primarily doing a kind-of speak/yell/sing deal on very early tracks like Red Socks Pugie and Two Steps Twice. Several tracks including Lonely Hunter which explores texture through its use of layering include Yannis’ multi-tracking his vocals over themselves in new ways that only scratches the surface of the incredible depth of his ability as an artist.
Those expecting some proper British rock are treated to a couple of tracks that involve some seriously heavy basslines and much more intense vocals. Snake Oil is built around this dirty bass/guitar riff that gets grungier as the track goes along, but it is in the title track though that we get the absolute best of heavier rock side to this incredibly versatile band. What Went Down is proof that Foals are not afraid to keep heavy British rock alive, and its only downfall is that it is really the only harder track of its kind on the album.
Although this is another album from Foals that shows of their unique versatility as a group, there is definitely a slight lacking of continuity between the various tracks on the album. In other words it’s not a record that is necessarily enhanced by being listened to as a whole, and perhaps that’s not what they were aiming for. Despite this, there has definitely been a conscious effort to create an album that is consistently of a higher quality across the whole record, and it’s clear that this goal has been smashed with What Went Down.