I have been on the edge of my literal and metaphorical seat since I got the Spotify alert “NEW FOALS SINGLE”.
Two months later, the long, long, awaited first part of their new two-part album release finally dropped. I knew this would need a handful of listens before I could really grasp the meaning behind it. The truth is, with every play I get a new wave of realization. But the overarching messages are as follows:
1. Foals are incapable of producing a mediocre song, let alone a bad one. And,
2. We are fucked.
Let’s put it out there: This is an environmental cry for help; but it’s the catchiest one I have ever heard.
It’s also a trompe l’oeil. Or more correctly, a trompe l’oreille.
We sort of saw Childish Gambino pull the same trick in 2018 with the genius way he directed the music video for ‘This Is America’: dancing in the foreground to mask the violence going on in the back. His message: that’s what America does. But Foals have taken it to a whole other level. It’s not just America; it’s the whole world.
You can easily listen to the album on repeat for days on end and not realise it’s a great environmental cry of despair and a desperate plea for change.
But then, slowly, it starts to hit you. You see, Foals know that shoving the message down your throat only makes you reject change even more. So they start off slow with ‘Moonlight’, infused with slow synths and the subtle metaphor of death in the form of a black horse that slowly evokes the discomfort of an approaching storm - or an apocalypse.
Then the urgency of ‘Exits’, the first single released from PT. 1, hits like the first drops of rain before you are drenched in the storm. It’s a lot more obvious in its message, with imagery of sinking lands, birds burning into extinction and the government saying “it’s a lie” when confronted by climate change advocates.
This frantic diaspora of heavy bass, synths and rising vocals only intensifies as ‘White Onions’ and ‘In Degrees’ hit in succession, leaving my mind fueled and my calf muscles drained with vigorous foot-tapping.
Yannis Philippakis’s vein-popping shouts of “I see a lair, I fight for air” on ‘White Onion’ isn’t just him repeating lines for dramatic effect. He’s repeating it because that’s the only way to make us sit up and really listen. Danger is coming; the oxygen we are used to won’t be here for long.
In Degrees sees another line, “I lose you in degrees, don’t leave me on my knees,” repeated over and over again with Philippakis’s voice growing in despair and intermixing with the inescapable danceability, evoking sweaty raves and explosive energy on a floor you’ve just come to know. But it’s a song that addresses the existential angst of millennials watching their prized relationships slip and die through the “glass doors” of social media and smartphones. The climate-related title is not a fluke either. Philippakis has explained how the phrase links the song to environmental awareness. Are we losing touch with our E-buddies or with Earth? They’re leaving it to you to decide.
(Hint: It’s both.)
You see… this album is the dictionary definition of a paradox. Like syrup, once the simple, sticky lyrics seep through your consciousness it’s almost impossible to ignore the message behind the riffs. But you still want to dance. Foals don’t need visuals and knee-jerk performance maneuvers to trick you, either. All they use is melody and metaphors. The line “throw a party so we won’t get hurt” in ‘Syrups’ is the perfect, even meta, way of showing what the album is doing. We sing songs to mask the cause; we throw parties to mask the issues. Why drink a spoonful of truth when you can… drink?
The tempo picks up again for the second single, ‘On the Luna’, with the lyrics reminiscing old, spent days at the Lido, naïve and unaware of the dangers ahead. The way Philippakis shouts ‘A day in the life of…” in the chorus before building up to “we had it all, but we didn’t stop to think about it” tips a hat to the Baby Boomers, who spent their days in graft and ecstasy, “had a wild one”, and left it to the next generation, Foals’ generation, to have “Trump clogging up [our] computer” and worrying “all day” about the (limited) days to come.
The experimentation with marimbas and xylophones in ‘Café D’Athens’ is new, uncharted ground for Foals, but so are environmental issues, and they both suit the hell out of them. The black horse in ‘Moonlight’ comes into contrast with “I ride white horses on the hill,” and the whole song feels almost like a dream in the singer’s head. Muffled screams of “give me one more time” are a plea for another chance that sounds like it’s coming from a time and place too far away - and far too late.
Time is the antagonist in this album, and it’s highlighted in the last two songs, which leave your heart pounding a little differently. The urgency slows down and morphs into despair, first with an interlude of ‘Surf Pt. 1’, then with third single ‘Sunday’, before screaming down to an almost unbearable hollowness in ‘I’m Done With the World (& It’s Done With Me)’ - but not before a little impromptu dance party. It’s almost like the band catch themselves before the total existential angst hits, and decide to let the sweat fly again.
Part 1: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost is the grandest of illusions. The lively riffs, the catchy choruses, and the rising, rave-worthy beats all conjure a glaring juxtaposition to the sense of emergent apocalypse. It makes you want to lose your mind. It makes you want to save the world. It’s up to you to decide which one is more urgent.