Van Gogh, Distortion, and their Dance Rock Origins: ‘What Went Down’ – Foals (Review)

With a short glance at the fluctuating music charts and the years newest releases, it’s not hard to see that Indie Music is in its prime: Death Cab for Cutie, Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons, Of Monsters and Men, Modest Mouse, and not the least of which: Foals.


What Went Down

Transgressive Records; 2015
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What Went Down’, the highly anticipated fourth studio album from the British indie rock group, found itself shining out amongst all the others at the end of Summer 2015. Their preceding three records were met with high critical acclaim, leaving the stakes high. Would it be the same, or a departure from what they had established themselves upon from the previous two albums with a funk influence; or perhaps a venture back to the fast-paced punk rock of the ‘Antidotes’ era? A lot was left in the open until the title track was released as the first teaser.

What we received was very much something that in many ways sounded the same, while bringing a new element to the table. The songs very much appear to fall into the same category as previous Foals material, but with a little less of the familiar high-pitched guitar ringing at the forefront. There is more distortion, more amplification through the powerful guitar.

This does not come without surprise. Frontman Yannis Philippakis stated in early June following the albums announcement that ‘What Went Down’ would be ‘the loudest and heaviest record to date’; and that shows through with distorted, droing guitar that replaces what was once a piercing sound full of layers of complexity.

Vocally, there is nothing new that hasn’t been presented from Philippakis before: he sings in the same desperate, manic manner with lyrics that plunge forward, touching points on insanity and madness inspired by van Gogh.

Check out the NME interview with Philippakis on inspiration for the album here.


The dance rock and afro-beat influence isn’t truly gone from ‘What Went Down’–it’s still there, buried behind distorted guitar and more apparent on some tracks more than others—and this is a record that certainly lends itself more to a rock sound than the punk genre of early Foals, but it is nowhere near devoid of creativity and exploration.

Title-track and first single What Went Down is opens the album, and for good reason. It’s clearly the most theatrical, fueled with passion and energy. It rises to a sort of calamity with powerful riffs and rage-filled vocals.

The second single, Mountain at My Gates, opens itself with its primary guitar hook and central riff. As the song progresses the lyrics preach ‘I see a Mountain at my Gates; I see it more and more each day’, mirrored by the mountainous distortion and guitar at the end.. The soundscape places Philippakis’ vocals behind the instrumentation and bellowing over it, and brings the droning guitar riffs at the forefront.

Proving that their venture into a newer sound is not a loss for the same quality of music, Birch Tree is very much a track that could be placed in the middle of ‘Total Life Forever’. Full of hooks and high-toned, distortionless guitar that uses few chords and more picking, much like the aforementioned album. It also makes effective use of an echoing vocal style, plenty of groove in the bassline that is reminiscent of the band’s initial dance rock influence, and a subtle synthesizer.

It’s difficult not to find things to love about ‘What Went Down.’  It’s a new direction into a style that’s been done many times before, but with the proper Foals touch and near-perfect execution, it doesn’t fall flat. Still, it’s hardly a refreshing take, even if it is nice to see the next evolution from what should very well be a seminal British indie rock quartet.

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