One.Three.Nine. Review: Foals – Exits

One.Three.Nine. is a three-stage review that captures initial reactions and more considered standpoints by writing after more and more listens.

One.

It’s a word we’ve heard a lot over the last few years. In the time Foals have been away from our airwaves, ‘exit’ (with its various hard; soft; deal or no deal; red, white and blue; Br- prefix) has rarely left them. Bored to tears with a lack of progress? Disappointingly, on first listen, that statement feels as relevant to ‘Exits’ as it does Brexit.

An effect-soaked lead guitar riff over a mid-tempo groove is all too reminiscent of Foals’ previous work, yet instead of being accompanied by frontman Yannis Philippakis’ trademark howl, we hear vocal delivered with the same amount of urgency that Britain have shown in negotiating. It feels a long way from when ‘Inhaler’ or ‘What Went Down’ led album campaigns in years gone by.

Three.

He’s going on about dreams a lot, but ‘Exits’ is more of a Lee from ‘The Office’ dream than a Martin Luther King one. The biggest issue is that despite being almost six minutes in length, there is so little melodic development. The catchiest and most interesting part has already occurred within 34 seconds.

While the intro grows on you, with robotic trade-offs between bass and guitar, the song slowly builds without ever reaching a peak. In fact, the chorus is actually boring. Instrumental and vocal layers coupled with expansive drum sounds give the impression of vastness, but it’s the aural equivalent of chicken fillet inserts.

Nine.

Although the verse becomes surprisingly addictive over time, I have come to detest the lethargic drum fill which leads into the chorus in a particularly uninspiring fashion (1:20). It is emblematic of a general lack of conviction; something which Foals have always had in spades in the past.

So, while the solid but unspectacular ‘Exits’ boasts the kind of groove that would allow it function well as an album opener (which I imagine it may well be), it doesn’t feel like a particularly great single. It’s a safe choice that will allow Foals to be welcomed back, securing album and tour pre-sales; but if a new band released this, they’d get relatively little airplay.

I’m sure ‘Exits’ will reach double figures on my play count at some point but, much like Brexit itself, I’m not exactly excited about it.

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Review: Idles – Joy as An Act of Resistance

The best art is believable. It doesn’t matter if it’s Monet or Mozart, Emin or Eminem, Stormzy or Stravinsky; usually the rebels who do have a cause have the largest and longest-lasting effect. Bristol five-piece Idles’ second album Joy as An Act of Resistance gives you something to believe in, delivering gut punch after gut punch to give you the most glorious beating of your life.

Brutalism, their 2017 debut, was incredibly well received but there’s no sign of sophomore slump here. The thick layers of guitar and vocals in the second half of opening track ‘Colossus’ give the impression of a band who want to make as much noise as they can, however the drum and bass guitar-lead ‘I’m Scum’ are surprisingly danceable, with a jaunty guitar lick butting in every time frontman Joe Talbot announces that, well, he’s scum. On ‘Television’, he delivers the line ‘Love Yourself’ with the sort of bullish assurance that makes Danny Dyer sound like Milhouse Van Houten. Elsewhere, unseasonable darkness sets in in ‘June’ where the lyrics, “a stillborn was still born, I am a father” and “baby’s shoes for sale: never worn” are repeated. It’s all the more powerful for its limited and repetitive approach.

But lyrically, the album’s most prevalent quality is humour. “I’m sorry your Grandad’s dead… ahhh… lovely spread”, begins ‘Gram Rock’. In some cases a defence mechanism as much as a tool of language, there’s a lot of topics which are tackled tongue-in-cheek. It’s typical of a punk genre which had its heyday 40 years ago, but with political unrest comes artistic backlash once again. That spirit running through Idles’ veins has never felt more necessary than today.

The state of Britain is tackled on the catchy ‘Danny Nedelko’, which features the line, “Fear leads to panic, panic leads to pain, pain leads to anger, anger leads to hate”. But on anti-Brexit tirade ‘Great’, the comedy specs are back on again:

“Blighty wants his country back
Fifty-inch screen in his cul-de-sac
Whooping charm of the union jack
As he cries at the price of a bacon bap”

Such visual social commentary may not be considered eloquent, but neither is the divide that exists in this country right now. Each song feels incredibly relevant, keeping you gripped as characters and stories unfold line by line. Even when Talbot sings, “ten points to Gryffindor” repeatedly, sounding like he’s scripting a new Rowntree’s fucking Randoms advert, such is the conviction with which it is delivered you’ll feel it’s your problem to figure it out rather than his for singing it.

It’s in the vocals, but it’s also in the pounding drums, the frantic guitar, the driving bass; Joy as An Act of Resistance is a collection of the most intense and believable music you’ll hear in a long time. By the time you’re being told to burn your house down in final track ‘Rottweiler’, you’ll feel like anything is still possible. It barely even matters what they’re saying. They’re going to save your world.

Review: Lifeboat [EP] by Hazey Jane (September Folking Around preview)

“Who are you if you’re not a mirror view of what’s come and what’s gone?”. A fitting lyric considering that while Hazey Jane named themselves after Nick Drake’s duo of tracks from 1970’s Bryter Layter, as reverb-soaked electric guitars wash across your speakers introducing you to their 2018 EP Lifeboat, you immediately know this is folk inspired by and made for the modern day.

Hailing from Hackney, London, there is an undeniably British sound resonating through Hazey Jane’s music. Indeed, the influence of those 60s and 70s troubadours such as Nick Drake and Van Morrison are there, but they are joined by the high production values and chorus hooks of Coldplay and U2, and the mid-noughties essence of Athlete and Turin Brakes; often hinting at melancholy but never truly immersing themselves in it.

The old folk tradition of story-telling is constant in Hazey Jane’s lyrics, making each song feel like a book you can’t put down. But like all the best books, there’s something which makes you come back to them. Something you might have missed the first time. On ‘Lifeboat’ it may be the sumptuous backing vocals, on ‘Mother’s Lie’ the bass line which subtly adds so much interest at carefully chosen moments, and the rolling drums and guitar solo on ‘Mirror View’ will ensure you keep from switching Lifeboat off a few tracks in time after time.

For the Folking Around attendee, the most exciting song from Lifeboat may be the live version of ‘Grow’, clearly showcasing the true quality of the ensemble. A tight, driving rhythm section allow an intense vocal and intricate lead guitar to shimmer with some real meaning. Alternately, final track, ‘Losing My Mind’ is the most obviously ‘folk’ song of the collection. Acoustic and vocal (oh, and let’s not forget the hand claps) prove surprisingly engaging throughout, maybe helped by the fairly quick tempo of the song.

While not the most challenging of listens, the quality of the musicianship and the compositional craftsmanship found on Lifeboat make Hazey Jane rise above their competitors even at this early stage of their career. I imagine we’re a year or two from Hazey Jane’s first full length effort, but by taking one or two risks they will likely produce an LP which may set them slightly further apart sonically and really capture the attention of the bigger labels. Folkin’ quality.