Everything not lost, will be saved
“It’s evolution vs. extinction,” says Foals frontman, Yannis Philippakis, when asked about the band’s upcoming project almost two years back. It’s their most ambitious release since their seminal debut, Antidotes, and they’ve certainly evolved from the skinny, math-rockers they were 11 years ago. They redefine their style with every move, two steps, twice (so to speak), yet still, they keep their clean ferocity, their subtle precision, and above all else, their integrity. Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost has got to be their biggest step yet – such that it’s no longer a question of evolution or extinction, but rather a question of understanding.
Part 1 entered the scene with instant acclaim, just missing a UK Number 1 yet still bagging the band their second Mercury Prize Nomination and Q Best Album of the Year award, and Part 2 lives up in the same way. “Black Bull” translates, so vividly, the brutal force that Foals bring to their live shows – it’s manic, it’s untamed and so unashamedly raw that it’s hard not to feel the band right there and then, in the room with you. It harks back to the stuff of “Inhaler” and “What Went Down,” the stuff that makes Foals one of the best bands around today, still making serious music.
“The Runner” plays brilliantly between heavily riffed verses and melodic choruses, floating in Foals euphoria, while “Into The Surf” carries on in a similar, subdued way. Filled with tender chords and fleeting vocals, Philippakis describes it as “one of the best things [the band] has ever written.” “Wash Off” brings back the spiky polyrhythms that gave birth to Foals, both twitchy and frenetic, yet revived with a new air of rhythm and pop, while “Like Lightning” is a more unchartered sound for them, pairing bluesy riffs with a thunderclap of a bass line – just the kind of stuff that’s going to rip up the stage. If one thing is for sure, ENSWBL Part 2 is made for the live shows, and while this could feel restrictive for the vast majority of listeners who won’t get to see them live, the duplicity is there, such that when Foals unleash it on the stage, it’s going to be like a ball of fire running through our veins.
While the core of these tracks remains true, they’re also leaning towards the commercial, more so than ever before – this is the furthest we’ve ever been from the band. Their wild experimentalism was a major pay off on Part 1, and probably after a few listens the same will be said for Part 2, but despite the many, many moments of success, it’s hard to shake one burning question – is the split release justified?
The answer is no. They could have easily refined this release into one, firmly viable record. They’ve sold it well, and granted, a lot of the tracks off the two records could not sit easily together. It’s funny to think that a surplus of Foals songs could ever be a bad thing, but sometimes, less really is more. There’s been hot debate around this topic recently, with more and more musicians challenging traditional album cycles because of the restrictions they place on the creative process. And with a band as prolific as Foals, it’s no surprise that they’ve finally reached a point where they can’t squeeze everything into one basket. We can’t really blame them for it either – no artist wants to cut back on their passion, but at what cost does that come? What remains for the sake of pure artistic merit, and what remains simply because no one had the awareness to realize it needed to go?
Part 2 has little dynamic to it. It’s noisy, and a lot of the time there’s too much going on. As a congruent whole, the album seems to be lacking the strength and direction of their previous projects, and while it’s not noticeable in the individual tracks, when you take a step back and look at everything together, it’s lacking restraint. The misdirection is largely due to the fact that they self-produced, and as textured as the result of that self-production is, they needed a clear leader in all of this, someone taking charge and making the tough decisions that a close-knit group of four friends sometimes cannot make. There’s potential everywhere, but it’s left undeveloped – “Ikaria” is an ephemeral standpoint from which the boys could have brought us another “Spanish Sahara” and “Neptune” feels like the same, like everything they’ve been chasing since the start of this project. It showcases some of Philippakis’ finest lyrics and plays on stuff with serious depth, but instead of turning the ten minutes into some kind of climatic, “Two Steps Twice” beast, they dive right down into a slow, staggering guitar solo. It’s great that they were able to capture the raw energy of their jam sessions, but once again, at what cost?
It’s clear to see that Foals are doing things how they like and how they choose, and they shouldn’t stop. They owe it to themselves. Maybe they tripped up a bit, but they did so because they had the courage to try. They’ve reached that point in their career where self-awareness counts more than anything else, and so without forgetting who they were at the start of all this, and who they set out to be, they can continue to make strides as bold and creative as this one. They’re not the same band they were before, but if there’s one overriding message here, it’s this – everything not lost, will be saved.