For the second time this year, Oxford four-piece Foals remind us all why they’re still filling out arenas when so many of their contemporaries have faded into obscurity, exploring and revisiting sounds, both new and old, with the guitar-driven brutality of Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Part 2.
“We’re not playing around,” snarls frontman Yannis Philippakis on the cathartically frantic lead single ‘Black Bull’, issuing a declaration of intent that sums up the LP’s no-nonsense sound and statement. Recorded simultaneously to March’s dazzling Part 1, this latest 10-track offering doubles down on the boisterous, stomping riffs of its predecessor without sacrificing any of its thoughtfulness, exchanging the first half’s themes of apocalyptic loss and defeat for a tangible sense of renewed hope.
Opening with the eerie instrumental piece ‘Red Desert’, the haunting synths, which immediately establish the barren desolation which forms the backdrop to Foals’ lyrical pursuit of salvation, quickly and elegantly segues into the punchy, uplifting album highlight, ‘The Runner’. Here, Philippakis stoically vows to “keep running” despite personal and global failures in a floaty chorus which acts as a refreshing contrast to the crunchy riffs of the track’s verses. When the song crescendoes into a soaring solo from brilliant guitarist Jimmy Smith, it quickly becomes apparent that any previously-expressed worries of the band having used all their best material in the March release were gloriously unjustified.
Having tested new waters with the innovative duality of ‘The Runner’, the band return to more familiar territory with the equally engaging ‘Wash Off’; the plucky sound brings to mind their biggest hit to date, ‘My Number’. Indeed, fans of Holy Fire – the album which ‘My Number’ makes its home – will find much to love here, with the track’s math-rock leanings resembling the band’s earlier material and Philippakis’ shocked cry of “Lord knows I’m in the field / Hellhounds are back and on my heels” acting as a playful reference to the devilish dogs mentioned in the 2013 release’s ‘Moon’. With the listener urged to “pull up [their] socks” and tend to their flaws, they are next treated to the three-minute sensory barrage of ‘Black Bull’. This offering easily tops the title track of 2015’s What Went Down as the band’s heaviest release; transforming into a caricatured rendition of his on-stage persona, Philippakis roars destructive promises over a thundering drumbeat and crazed, distorted guitar. However, whilst an attention-demanding listen and an instant staple of live shows, this track bears a somewhat repetitive nature which arguably leaves it with a diminished replay value in comparison to others on offer here.
‘Like Lightning’ follows, a crisp pronouncement of self-assurance edged with paranoia. Infusing the unhinged blues-rock of 2015’s ‘Snake Oil’, with a swagger seemingly borrowed from the work of Royal Blood, this track remains a strong piece despite seeming too safe in comparison to the trio which follows it, comprised of the mesmerising deep cut ‘Dreaming Of’, the haunting, piano-based interstitial ‘Ikaria’, and the joyously peculiar ’10,000 Feet’. This latter track especially is a standout piece, with Phillipakis imagining himself as a modern-day Icarus over dreamy guitar and glittering piano (which, rest assured, gives way to a savage breakdown here and there). Imploring the listener to “come and dance at 10,000 feet” with him as he falls to his death, the frontman here demonstrates the sort of inextinguishable optimism which serves to knit the album together.
The album’s penultimate track – the serene-yet-sinister ‘Into the Surf’ – is equal parts love song and elegy, sounding akin to a spookier rendition of ‘Spanish Sahara’, like that Total Life Forever masterpiece dressed up for a Halloween party. It’s as mad and as great as that sounds. Sadly, the closer which follows it, ‘Neptune’, fails to live up to that greatness, perhaps ending up as the weakest track of the bunch, due to a drawn-out runtime which spends its first five minutes (and final minute and a half) sounding like a typically fantastic Foals track and the remainder sounding like a bored Jimmy Smith tuning his guitar.
Despite that minor misstep, though, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Part 2 succeeds in bringing a triumphant, accomplished end to the journey started in Part 1, acting as a magnificently visceral and varied contemplation of a prophesied end-time to which Foals refuse to give in. Given the state of current affairs, embroiled as they are in Brexit, Trump, and the irrefutable climate crisis, that’s an attitude which ought to be admired.