Firing up the foals

On their third full-length album, the Oxford five-piece shift from their roots to a more polished sound, that's both stunning and profound

FOALS/ HOLY FIRE

Comprising Yannis Philippakis, Jack Bevan, Walter Gervers, Edwin Congreave and Jimmy Smith, the Foals are one of those bands whose sound is so distinct it's become a part of them.

For the uninitiated, take a listen to their debut album, Antidotes, and you'll know what we're talking about. Tracks such as Hummer, Cassius, and Olympic Airways are full of unrelenting angular riffs and angsty enthusiasm that often manifests itself in the highly metaphorical/nonsensical lyrics (''Cassius, it's over, Cassius, away/Cassius, these daydreams, these daydreams, OK,'' and ''We're not safe of dying kings/With plastic knives'' _ go figure.)

Things started to change a little on their second album, Total Life Forever. Sound-wise, it's not as frantic as their first. In fact, it's the total opposite. The general mood is calm, calculated and content (on Miami, This Orient and Blue Blood, frontman Philippakis even sings about ordinary things like love), plus the record's most stunning work turns out to be its only ballad, Spanish Sahara, which was also named one of 150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years by prestigious British music magazine, NME.

But nothing could prepare fans for the bold shift in sound reflected on Inhaler, the first single from the band's third album, Holy Fire. The track opens with funk guitars and then explodes into a whirlpool of scuzzy riffs as Philippakis cries, ''So can you not go away, if just for one day.'' With all the shouty breakdowns, it is almost as if Foals are the reincarnation of Rage Against the Machine.

The next single, My Number, paints a striking contrast to Inhaler with its feel-good funk goodness and unusually simple lyrics about changing one's phone number after a breakup. Bad Habit is just as sonically contagious with slightly more depth: ''I made my mistake and I feel something's changed/Wash the stains away and I feel quite OK.''

Late Night in many ways resembles Spanish Sahara in its reservedness and brutal honesty. ''Oh, I hoped that you were somebody, someone I could count to pull me to my feet again, when I was in doubt,'' Philippakis croons as the melody gradually builds, releases and rebuilds into one full contemplative minute of pure instrumental.

Elsewhere on the album, there's a sense of urgency (Everytime and Providence) and whimsy (Out of the Woods and Milk & Black Spiders) whereas Prelude severely clashes with the album's closer Moon.

Foals have come a long way since Antidotes, and Holy Fire presents the quintet in an even more expansive and emotionally-charged manner than Total Life Forever. From opening to closing tracks, the album runs cohesively, with plenty of stories to tell.

THE PLAYLIST

Seal Pillow/ Rong Tao Pha Bai

Fans of the local indie scene may have already heard of Parinam Music's Pla Nin Tem Ban, the soul-funk group who generated quite a buzz back in early 2011. Now the Bangkok-based label is introducing us to another new band with an equally intriguing name. Meet Chalerm (vocals and synth), Aron (guitar), Pakorn (bass), Makara (guitar) and Araya (drums), otherwise collectively known as Seal Pillow. Their debut single, Rong Tao Pa Bai, instantly reminds us of legendary post-punk bands such as the Smiths and the Cure as well as newer ones such as Real Estate and Beach Fossils.

Phoenix/ Entertainment

Besides wine and cheese, indie pop group Phoenix are undoubtedly another of France's greatest exports. Their albums United, It's Never Been Like That and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix are examples of indie pop done right with a delightful blend of pop, rock and electro. Ahead of their upcoming fifth album, Bankrupt!, the band shares with us Entertainment, a synth-fuelled single that sees frontman Thomas Mars musing: "When everyone here knows better/What I once refused to be/Is everything they long together, I'd rather be alone." Take away those depressing lines, and we still get the joyous Phoenix sound that we're all accustomed to.

Disclosure (featuring AlunaGeorge)/ White Noise

What happens when two of the best up-and-coming bands of 2012 conspire? The answer lies in White Noise, a dance tune so lush it makes it an early contender for one of this year's top singles _ not a major surprise considering how excellent Disclosure's Latch and AlunaGeorge's Your Drums, Your Love are. Their collaboration on White Noise plays to their strengths with a minimal beat that's warmly laced with Aluna Francis' vocals: "You just wanna keep me on repeat and hear me crying," she sings, "If you wanna play tough/Let's get rough."

James Blake/ Retrograde

Following his highly lauded, eponymously titled debut album in 2011, the British post-dubstep grandmaster makes a welcome return with Retrograde, the first single taken from his upcoming second album, Overgrown. "We're alone now, we're alone now," croons Blake alongside swirls of airy synths and after-hours piano notes. Unlike his previous, often experimental, offerings, Retrograde proves far more accessible yet still manages to retain the sense of wonder we've come to associate with Blake's sound. Filled with plenty of soul sensibility, this is easily one of his most affecting original songs to date.

Avicii vs Nicky Romero/ I Could Be The One

After giving the world his ubiquitous smash hit Levels in 2011, Swedish superstar DJ Avicii is still riding the dance music wave into 2013 with this latest offering, I Could Be The One. Collaborating with Dutch house DJ/producer Nicky Romero, Avicii, once again, hits the nail on the head with the infectious dancefloor-ready production and uplifting lyrics sung by emerging Swedish songstress Noonie Bao. "I could be the one to make you feel that way, I could be the one to set you free," sings Bao against Avicii's signature glossy synths and stadium-sized trance beat.

About the author

Writer: Chanun Poomsawai