It has been over a decade since the release of Foals’ debut record Antidotes, marking the beginning of the Oxford band’s unique journey to becoming one of the world’s biggest powerhouses on the musical stage. After 1.9 million album sales and worldwide tours which culminated in headlining Reading & Leeds and Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage, they established a reputation as being one of the most explosive bands on the planet. However, the departure of much beloved bassist Walter Gervers in 2018 after twelve years playing alongside frontman Yannis Philippakis, guitarist Jimmy Smith and drummer Jack Bevan led some to fear where this would leave the band ahead of their fifth studio album Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost.
The decision to pursue a new direction without a new bassist or a producer, which they had used on the four previous albums, was a bold step to take. Many bands have wildly lost their way in search of widening their range or pursuing a new direction, and without Gervers, things could have gone into disarray. But this is Foals we are talking about here, masters of reinventing themselves and their music, surely we weren’t about to witness their collapse? Still, it was inevitable that doubt would creep in about how the quartet could recover from such a blow.
If only we knew what was brewing.
Usually at this point in the lifespan of a band, after four albums and an established fanbase there can be a tendency for new material to either heavily replicate a tried and true formula or attempt to master an entirely different approach and fail miserably (looking at you, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino). Their first single, “Exits”, quickly put to bed any lingering fears. It is a near six-minute cry of defiance that Foals can do more than just humbly accept that their best days are behind them. The opening few seconds feels like the initial descent on a daunting rollercoaster, and then the powerful groove resonates in your eardrums and welcomes you to the next chapter of their discography.
Having the opportunity to exclusively craft their own sound without external influence has allowed Philippakis and company to approach the new record with a sound that is undiluted and quintessentially themselves. What resulted was a creation that captured our anxieties and troubles, wrapped expertly using instrumentals and beats that are as raucous and powerful on tracks such as “White Onions” as they are sombre and delicate on closing track, “I’m Done with The World (& It’s Done With Me).” The optimistic, uplifting tones that envelop “In Degrees” are utilised to mask the theme of fear and anxiety about the world around us that runs through much of the album. “Sunday” is one of the finest songs that Foals have ever made, demonstrating the clever balance of dulcet tones with an eventual breakdown that you can’t help but lose yourself within.
Gervers’ departure has been capitalised on in the most positive light considering a goodbye that would have been immeasurably difficult. Having been such a vital instigator for the band’s success, Philippakis initially feared that it would pave the way for an eventual collapse, but instead it has motivated the now quartet to aim ever higher in their ambitions. The abrupt change has worked in their favour when it came to tackling Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost. “There was an urgency to it, a conviction to making this record, and it didn’t feel laboured” Phillipakis told The Independent, citing the parting as a catalyst. Few would have survived the exit of such an instrumental figure, but bands like Foals are one to be cherished. Their longevity and burgeoning success point to that.
It is somewhat fitting on a personal note that Foals would be the subject matter of my final article as a writer for this paper. In a way, I partly owe my involvement in music journalism to the band. One of my first ever gigs was at the Marquee watching Philippakis absolutely captivate his audience, silencing those present at one moment with the melancholic beauty of “Spanish Sahara” before whipping the crowd into a frenzied pit of wonderful chaos during “Inhaler.” It made me realise music’s unique energy, its power to help us in our darkest moments and its ability to frame the very best ones. The fact that Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost was released to the world mere hours after the student media referendum passed earlier this month was a wonderful coincidence. Who is to say it will not motivate some of the next generation of students here at UCC to embrace student media too.
There is still more yet to come from Foals before 2019 draws to a close. The world of music has evolved to the point where material is consumed at an alarmingly fast pace, and the hunger for new and original work from artists seems insatiable. To address this, fans are being treated to Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2 in the autumn, with a gig at Trinity College in Dublin presenting the opportunity to see Foals live in July. If that is not enough, Everything Everything’s bassist Jeremy Pritchard will be touring alongside the band – rest assured he is an accomplished performer more than worthy of stepping into Gervers’ boots. The old age of Foals may now be over, but the future is just as exciting.