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RAMFest 2014 Build-Up: Top 9 Foals Moments

In just over a month, Foals will be performing for the first time in…

 

In just over a month, Foals will be performing for the first time in South Africa at this year’s RAMFest. In anticipation of their visit, here are 9 moments in Foals’ history:

 

9. Look at My Furrows of Worry

Nowhere else in their repertoire do Foals’ math rock roots shine through as powerfully as in their 2006 single, Try This on Your Piano/Look at My Furrows of Worry. This track, previously known as ‘Modern Art is for Pricks’ in an earlier demo, features Foals founder Andrew Mears on lead vocals and guitar, and the other five members who we’ve grown to know and love as today’s Foals. 

This initial make-up of the band came together in 2005, with Yannis Phillippakis and Jack Bevan fresh out of cult math rock band, The Edmund Fitzgerald, and Walter Gervers and Jimmy Smith hailing from Oxford band, Face Meets Grill. 2006 saw the departure of Mears – driven by his desire to focus on his other musical endeavour, Youthmovies – leaving the quintet to forge a path for themselves.

The most special quality of this Foals artefact is that it stands in stark contrast to the more recent releases, and allows us to easily see the development of the band over the 9 years they’ve been together. Depending on one’s musical tastes, “development” may carry varying connotations. There are, no doubt, those who lament the types of sounds and occasional 9/4 timing heard in this track, and those who think it’s best that the band has moved away from them. To each his own. 

8. On Track with SEAT 

‘Blue Blood’ and ‘Spanish Sahara’ are arguably two of the most important tracks off Total Life Forever, for perfectly opposite reasons.

The band has talked about ‘Blue Blood’ as being an appropriate segue between their debut album, Antidotes, and the more mature sounds of TLF. Hyper-twelfth-fret guitar riffs and a dancey bass line typical of an Antidotes track make ‘Blue Blood’ a perfect and gentle introduction to what is widely recognised as a drastic inter-album jump. 

‘Spanish Sahara’, on the other hand, represents an emancipation from the restrictions the band placed on themselves in their early years, and showed just how far the band was prepared to not only push their own musical boundaries, but to test the tolerance of their fans. Foals showed the same audacity when they gave us ‘Inhaler’ ahead of the Holy Fire release in February 2013. 

Spanish car manufacturer, Seat, in partnership with Universal Music Group and Festival Republic, seeks to provide musicians with the exclusive opportunity to record two original tracks as well as a cover directly to vinyl. In the second episode of the On Track series, we witness great performances of these two important tracks, as well as a Tears for Fears cover. 

7. Milk & Black Spiders – Live on KEXP

June 2013 saw Foals return to KEXP radio, Seattle. The full performance includes three tracks off Holy Fire: ‘Milk & Black Spiders’, ‘My Number’, and ‘Moon’. Yannis, Jimmy and Walter, performing without Jack and Edwin, deliver stripped-down versions of the songs. Walter abandons his usual bass guitar obligations and launches drum samples from the corner; supporting the song via a simple kick and snare rhythm.  

‘Milk & Black Spiders’ has often been spoken of as an unofficial sequel to Total Life Forever’s ‘Spanish Sahara’. Save for the crescendo at 3:46, the reasons for this are mostly unclear when comparing the studio recordings. This live performance, however, reveals a closer relationship between the tracks, particularly with respect to the rhythm created by the guitar chords. 

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6. Callen1034 live on stage – Two Steps Twice live performance

If you are prepared to put up with unnecessarily scathing YouTube comments about his red hair, you should, at once, have a look at the incredible drumming ability of YouTube-user, Callen1034. 

Callen has produced a drum cover for every Foals song to date. Sheet-music-less he performs each with skill paralleled only by Jack Bevan himself (for proof of his talent, watch how he performs Edwin Congreave’s cowbell part in addition to the full drum kit part for ‘Black Gold’ here). 

The floor tom is a favourite auxiliary instrument of Foals frontman, Yannis Phillippakis. Here we watch as he relinquishes this duty and passes it on to Callen, who is pulled up onto the stage at a 2010 show in Washington DC. He continues to give an explosive supporting performance, further enhancing the inherent energy in Antidotes classic, ‘Two Steps Twice’. He is visibly over the moon, and it’s a joy to watch as the band affords the super-fan a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

5. A Sketch for ESG

‘A Sketch for ESG’ comes off the B-Side of the Red Socks Pugie single, released in 2008. The track’s rarity is attributed not only to the fact that it is a B-side, but also because it is one of the band’s few purely instrumental tracks. 

Being of the Antidotes period, the song features the typical characteristics of clipped guitar playing and a hard-hitting, beautifully constructed drum part. However, a distorted bass line and a host of eerie sounds make the track ‘swampy’ – a term often used to describe the sound of Holy Fire. One might say, therefore, that this track provides a glimpse into the future – a future in which tracks such as ‘What Remains’ and ‘Inhaler’ are produced. 

4. Foals Suck – Episode 4 and 5

Long time video collaborator, Dave Ma, followed the band to the States while they toured their debut album, Antidotes. Episodes one to seven of the Foals Suck series show footage of this tour, each roughly covering a different aspect of the band. 

In episode 4, Walter, Yannis and Jimmy recall how they started gigging – when they were too underdeveloped to warrant a full show, so turned to booking tiny house parties. We’re treated to footage of the band, their gear, and numerous dancing fans crammed into a tiny room, all going ape-shit. This episode also features scenes of an electric, energy-saturated performance of Antidotes opener, ‘The French Open’. The atmosphere is evidently incredible. 

On a more serious note, episode 5 explores the production process of the album. The band praises their producer, Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, and explains the extent to which he contributed to the final product. Sitek’s final mix was, however, rejected, and the band decided to mix the album themselves. A lot of reverb was removed, reverting the tracks back to their more honest, raw state – a truer reflection of the studio experience. Despite this minor dispute, the band maintains that Sitek was an indispensable influence. 

3. Red Socks Pugie performance live on Later … with Jools Holland

Ahead of the release of Antidotes in March 2008, Foals made their netweork television debut on Later … with Jools Holland. They performed the tracks ‘Balloons’ and ‘Red Socks Pugie’, and of the two, the latter stands out unquestionably.

The reasons for RSP’s superiority are by no means explicit. It may very well boil down to the fact that it was played second, thereby offering the band a chance to settle in. There may, however, also be a strong case for the more natural live arrangement, which differs subtly but powerfully from the studio version. 0:40 sees a beautiful crescendo as Walter and Edwin join the sparse guitar chimes coming from Yannis and Jimmy. Jack opts for an open hi-hat approach during the chorus, elevating the energy above that of the closed hi-hat album recording. Notice also his almighty scream from behind the drum kit in the chorus-verse change at 1:56.

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Besides delivering a tight performance, Foals give us so much more: their quintessential Foals-ness. Short guitar straps and jerky movements were the building blocks of this band’s early days. Their stage energy is undeniable – achieved despite the fact that crowd interaction is next to zero. They perform facing each other, enclosed in their own world of mathsy dance rock. This produces intimacy, not exclusivity – five men entirely enveloped in their music. 

2. Black Gold 2

CD 2 of the deluxe edition of Total Life Forever includes 15 progress demos, featuring 5 pre-production versions of TLF, a track simply titled “—“, and ‘Black Gold 2’. It’s an 8-minute window into the minds of the band members as they worked on the track that would later become one of their favourites. 

The studio version, ‘Black Gold’, is made up of two distinct sections – the pre-3:55 verse-chorus structure, and the post-3:55 euphoria (for want of a less subjective way to put it). 3:55 marks the climax of a slowly-opening hi-hat and reverberating guitar tremolo, which drops into the lyric “Now that Spring is finally here…”. 

Black Gold 2 takes us to the most original form of the song. We hear guitar riffs beginning to come to life, and Yannis’ microphone-less voice shaping the lyrics. It is a gem among gems. CD 2 is as much a joy to listen to as the studio album. 

1. Total Life Forever (making of)

In the first half of 2009, the band moved into a house in Oxford where most of the writing for TLF occurred. This ‘Making of’ documentary was filmed and directed by Dave Ma, and covers parts of the Oxford-based writing process and parts of the Sweden-based recording process at Svenska Grammofon Studio, Gothenburg. As Internet clips go, this video is relatively long. It’s worth watching it in its entirety, but if you’re pressed for time here are some highlights:

– The development of Spanish Sahara guitar riffs at 1:44 and 5:12. It will take a keener ear than my own to discover in what shape or form the latter exists in the final product, but nevertheless it is a great guitar piece. 

The Black Gold progress at 2:43, in which Yannis makes use of a beautiful vocal rhythm that doesn’t feature in any other recordings of the song. 

Yannis playing a guitar riff for the track, 2 Trees, at 8:54 which is then seen being performed by Walter on backing vocals at 9:41. This is how the part makes its way into the emotional track; a distant murmer supporting the chorus. 

The construction and live performance of the opening vocals for This Orient at 13:35. The achieved effect could easily have been produced by a synthesized arpeggiator, but the band was adamant that live voices were used. The complexity and difficulty of the arrangement unfortunately renders the track near-impossible to reproduce live. Consequently there has only been one live performance of This Orient. 

 

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