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Spinnaker Record Club: Foals refine their signature style with What Went Down

Welcome to Spinnaker Record Club! Every week, we’ll review a small selection of the latest music from all genres, focusing on artists and releases the average, busy student might not consider. Let’s get started:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuQQIawCqBA]
Graphic by Rachelle Keller
Graphic by Rachelle Keller


To listen to What Went Down in ideal conditions, do one of the following:

-Get in your car, go to the isolated strip of highway closest to your home and drive as fast as you can. Feel the title track tear you asunder as your grip on the wheel tightens, your pulse rises, and your vehicle strains to keep up.

-Get a pair of very powerful speakers, set them up in a huge, cavernous space – a warehouse or airplane hangar– and press play. Let it blast you away like you’re in a vintage Maxell tapes advertisement.

-See Foals in concert. In an arena. If they don’t have arena dates, they should.

Foals’ 2012 single “Inhaler,” far and away their best song, climaxes with an explosive chorus where singer Yannis Philippakis shouts, as the song enters cosmic, limitless territory, “I can’t get enough space.” As it turns out, this would become the band’s modus operandi, and they happily put it to work on What Went Down, one of the most purely exciting rock releases of the decade.

In our era of meek, inoffensive indie, Foals are an essential jolt of adrenaline. Excluding grunge, they are the closest independent rock has come to making arena rock. Their arrangements, vast and anthemic yet quite danceable, work in any listening space while demanding an equally spacious one. We can chalk this up not only to Philippakis’ strong voice and the reverb applied to each instrument, but also the excellent organ and keyboard elements, essential for texture and fullness.

The record lulls in the middle, not quite reaching the heights of its opener and equally excellent closer, “A Knife in the Water.” Song structures are repeated, melodies are altered slightly and lyricism isn’t the band’s strong suit. Thankfully, none of this kills the vibe.  Despite the filler, What Went Down is the last, best hope for mainstream rock’s survival in 2015.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krpcRnxVCmA]
Graphic by Rachelle Keller
Graphic by Rachelle Keller

Ditching the marvelous, dreamy yacht rock of 2011’s Kaputt and returning to English from 2013’s pleasant Five Spanish Songs EP, Destroyer has returned from the wilds with Poison Season, a record that tries and fails to emulate several notable 70s rock icons. Lead single “Dream Lover,” for instance, sounds like a jumbled, mish-mashed take on “Born to Run.” The problem, it seems, lies with singer Dan Bejar. Although one might consider him the closest indie indie has to a Bruce Springsteen-type, here his glibly eloquent voice lacks the charisma of the Boss, and his lyrics lack both the thematic unity of Springsteen’s writing and the mystique of the band’s earlier work. Springsteen was a hardened poet of the working class, and his narratives of blue collar love and loss are solid American classics. Bejar, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to know what he’s trying to say. Frequently he uses biblical allusions, and even more frequently he addresses a “girl,” sounding like a Ryan Gosling meme, and none of it ever connects.

With Bejar’s creative voice faltering, the instrumentals take center stage. Frequently the band employs strings to give it a symphonic push, but the album is at its best when it dives into fun, swinging plastic soul. We can hear this best on “Times Square,” which, despite some vigorous aping of David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” drops nearly all of the record’s built-up pretense. Yet even the backing band is somewhat torn, as if they want to still hold on to Kaputt’s much stronger style. Even at its best, Poison Season feels like a pale imitation, of Springsteen, of Bowie and of Bejar.

Other Notable Releases:

FKA twigs – M3LLI55X: A five-track EP released first as a long-form, conceptual music video with a loose narrative about motherhood. The striking music and visuals make this the English singer/producer’s most powerful, focused artistic statement yet. Just don’t ask me to pronounce the title. (4.5 Sails)

Panda Bear – Crosswords EP: A surprise release from the Animal Collective member following his solo album from earlier this year. Fun and low key, but if you’re looking for quality, check out the PBVSGR Remixes EP he dropped in June. (3 Sails)

AFX – Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-08 EP: Richard D. James graces us with yet another release following last year’s Aphex Twin album Syro, this year’s Computer Controlled Instruments EP and a metric ton of tracks released on Soundcloud. Not his best under the AFX moniker, but if you’re unfamiliar with his brand of off-kilter techno, give it a whirl. (3.5 Sails)

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