What do you think when you hear the term “math rock”? Most people probably think of some poor teacher trying to be “hip” by introducing the kids to a math parody of a Green Day song. But in reality, math rock is a genre of music characterized by complex rhythm structures and odd time signatures. Having just recently released their fourth studio album, Foals is a math rock group with not only a unique genre, but a unique sound. Their most recent album, What Went Down, was released on August 28, 2015.
The album starts bluntly, lacking the long introductions seen on their previous records. The first and title track begins with a strange, feedback-y sound, before going right into prominent vocals, drums, and guitar. Throughout the song, the feedback never cuts out, and is always lurking in the background of the music. With a harsh rock sound not dissimilar to Kerplunk! (by Green Day), but with the fuzzy sound not unlike AM (by the Arctic Monkeys), the Foals sound is familiar, but still incredibly individual. Around the middle of the title track, there is a massive buildup, with barely noticeable vocals and dreamy sounds layered in with the rock music. Towards the end, the static and feedback get even stronger, nearly overpowering the vocals. An abrupt cutoff signals the end of the song, leading us to prepare for the next song. Mountain At My Gates is the second song, and the second single. It has a sound almost like an Imagine Dragons song, especially considering the high, almost scratchy vocals. The third track on the album, Birch Tree is a bit slower, with syncopated beats and a strange, dislocated voice in the lower layer of the music. Give It All, the fourth, starts off much softer and gentler, with dream pop-like instrumentals. While What Went Down was faster and full of adrenaline, Give It All is much gentler and full of melancholy. At 1:39, an ethereal buildup starts, leading into a beautiful, shimmery sound. It’s hard to believe that both songs were even by the same band, let alone on the same album. Night Swimmers starts with a heavy bass beat, and echoey rock vocals. Somewhere near the middle, heavier guitar is added in, making the song sound like a faceoff between dream pop and alt rock. Lonely Hunter, the second to last song, starts with piano, tambourine, guitar and drums. It’s also very different from its counterparts, with lower, harmonized vocals, and clear layers. Towards the end of the track, it slows down a bit, and adds in an electronic sounding melody in the background of the music that reappears to finish out the song. A Knife In The Ocean, the last song, starts off as creepy and ethereal. With echoing melodies and strange guitars, the song picks up suddenly when the drums come in. Clocking in at 6:52, the final track is the longest. About midway through the song, the buildup from the beginning comes back in, more intense than ever. Odd, scattered sounds are inserted, and what sounds like an alert before a heavy metal door closes can be heard. The album finishes out with the electro, staticky feedback featured in almost all of the tracks.
With music styles ranging from alt rock, to math rock, to dream pop, the Foals have the same thing that many would argue has brought twenty one pilots success – a different kind of music. Not only is it a different genre, but all of the songs are varied styles, and incredible.