Posted on August 31st, 2015 (11:00 am) by Nick Manai

Foals’ fourth LP What Went Down was recorded in the same village that housed the psychiatry ward that Vincent Van Gogh was committed to after cutting off his ear. I’m not kidding. In an interview with NME lead singer Yannis Philippakis said the band was hoping to “suck in a bit of that madness” during recording. It isn’t just a ridiculous comment because it trivializes Van Gogh’s mental illness, or because Vincent also suffered from depression and anxiety in addition to what Philippakis must have been hoping to tap into: his bi-polar disorder. It’s also ridiculous because What Went Down isn’t at all manic. It’s an album of heavy riffs, funky electronic melodies and lots of vague over-reaching lyrics. They might want to “rock,” but only in the most established of ways, no one is even considering metaphorically cutting their ear of on this record, let alone actually going mad.

So why is this record billed as such an exploration of madness? Foals’ press management certainly aim to sell it to the public that way. But madness in art exclusively is more about form and less about subject matter. Consider this excerpt from a letter Vincent wrote to his brother Theo Van Gogh describing his illness, “I am so angry with myself because I cannot do what I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless.” This sentiment is the opposite of exuberance, but it also has a madness that’s equal to its paralysis, and the form is ten times as naked as anything on What Went Down. I wouldn’t want to be Van Gogh in this moment, I would want for him to get better, but I’m also damn interested in seeing what he might’ve painted on that day or the next.

If What Went Down can extricate itself from this name association than it will have a better chance of surviving. About three minutes into the title track, Philippakis and co let go of sounding harsh and tough and drift into a melody they spend the next two tracks swimming in. The sentiment is still dry, except when Philippakis compares his heart to an old pole dancer and an old black panther. Actually, he sounds pretty light-hearted, like he believes in the groove his band is laying down behind him and he isn’t at all helpless here singing in front of us. When Foals drop their false bravado, which reaches its pinnacle on “Lonely Hunter,” they are not an uninteresting collection of funk, dance and hard Foo Fighters rock. But if they try to sell you the knife that cut off their ears, don’t buy it.

Track List:

  1. What Went Down
  2. Mountain at My Gates
  3. Birch Tree
  4. Give It All
  5. Albatross
  6. Snake Oil
  7. Night Swimmers
  8. London Thunder
  9. Lonely Hunter
  10. A Knife in the Ocean
Foals: What Went Wrong
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

58 / 100
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