About halfway through Foals’ jubilant new album, Life Is Yours, curling guitars combine with tumbling drums for the 36-second interlude “(summer sky),” and majestically, the British rock trio graze the sun. Unlike Icarus, however, the Yannis Philippakis–fronted band doesn’t fall to Earth, but rather melds one of the finest rock records of the summer.
Foals have been around for over 15 years, having released six previous albums, but they have perhaps not sounded as liberated—and fun—as they do on Life Is Yours. Boosted by Philippakis’s mighty warble, the band—which is currently rounded out by guitarist Jimmy Smith and drummer Jack Bevan—celebrate life on the new record and consequently exude pure joy.
“I actually met Yannis on an internet classified ad,” Bevan says via Zoom of the band’s origins on a recent afternoon before a festival set in Lisbon. “I posted an ad saying I was looking for a band because I had been in a few others, but they had sort of broken up. I posted this ad saying, ‘Drummer who likes Don Caballero, Boards of Canada, and Aphex Twin looking for someone to play with.’ This was long enough ago that Yannis responded to the ad and sent me a handmade tape cassette with all of his favorite musical influences.”
From the first online exchange, Philippakis brought Bevan on to join his then-band The Edmund Fitzgerald, where they began their math rock–indebted experimentation together. “I was kind of shocked and in awe at how Yannis was seemingly not schooled very much because he kept flunking off to rehearse music, going to parties and stuff. But he got into Oxford University and he was probably one of the smartest kids in the whole school,” Bevan says. “There was this kind of a duality there.”
“Our previous band was very math rock-y, very complicated, with time changes and 15-minute-long songs, and it was great. When that dissolved, we liked the idea of playing fun music—music that would get people dancing.”
Philippakis, down to his dark eyes and thick beard, is certainly one of the most compelling frontmen out of the UK and a figure whom young Americans have been flocking to see perform for well over a decade now. Not unlike Samuel Herring of Baltimore synth-pop stalwarts Future Islands, the singer not only has a fiery timbre but a fierce persona. On stage, bent over his electric guitar and threshing on the strings, he emerges as a gentle beast. On record, he wears his emotions on his sleeve and lets the listener in. “Life is yours / Break away,” he sings on the opening title track off Life Is Yours, getting even the grouchiest listener to dance. “Life is yours / Your life awaits,” he then shouts and, in a fashion similar to that of David Byrne on Talking Heads’ iconic “Once in a Lifetime,” he jolts listeners awake.
Along with Philippakis, Bevan and Smith have been commanding listeners’ attention for almost 20 years, their previous album Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost from 2019 releasing as two parts and landing them a Mercury Prize nomination. While several other groups that started in the 2000s have since disbanded, Foals stayed together due in part to Philippakis’s tenacity, appearing to make music as if their lives depend on it. “Foals happened for a few reasons,” Bevan says. “Our previous band was very math rock-y, very complicated, with time changes and 15-minute-long songs, and it was great. When that dissolved, we liked the idea of playing fun music—music that would get people dancing.”
“We’ve been doing it for so long now that I can’t really remember a life without it. That’s one of the things I’m kind of proud of. There aren’t many other bands that we came up with that are still going for whatever reason—it’s a lot of your life to dedicate to.”
Having joined the band in 2005, Bevan is by now a rock veteran. “We’ve been doing it for so long now that I can’t really remember a life without it,” he says. “It’s interesting—you go through phases because any band that’s been around for a long time, you start off, you’re this new band and people get very excited about new bands. There’s hype and that kind of thing. And not all of those new bands end up sticking around for that many years. That’s one of the things that I’m kind of proud of. There aren’t many other bands that we came up with that are still going for whatever reason—it’s a lot of your life to dedicate to. Also, I think one of the strengths in our band is that we’ve always put a lot of effort and pride into our live shows.”
Foals have yet to tour North America with Life Is Yours, with that stretch set to take place in the fall, but the album is almost readymade for such forthcoming stages as New York’s Terminal 5 and Los Angeles’s Hollywood Palladium. From the aforementioned opening title track, the record spins the anthemic second song “Wake Me Up” which, with its zig-zagging guitars and thumping drums, will almost surely compel audiences to stomp along. Tucked inside the zippy song, however, with Philippakis begging, “Hey man / Won’t you wake me up?,” is the more urgent reminder that life is not a rehearsal, that, however trying, this is it. Still, Foals aren’t pessimists but rather one of the most impassioned contemporary bands.
The deceptively sunny “2am” even sounds like an ode to the titular wee hour, that time late in the night when seemingly anything—maybe even sudden romance—can happen. As Philippakis sings, “I lost myself again,” the listener, too, can soak in that spontaneous freedom. It’s after the “(summer sky)” interlude, during the album’s buoyant second half, however, when Foals shows why they’re also infectiously joyful. On the album standout, “Crest of the Wave,” over winding guitars, Philippakis sings, “I promise I need ya,” and no matter the addressee, the “ya” he pleads with is really anyone’s lover and conveys the record’s broader theme of indestructible romance.
Foals, after all, champion love, whether it be for an individual, a place, or music itself. As Bevan says, he and the band are “really excited” to play and, with the fire within them, they will blaze across the stage as they craft something magical on each stop of their tour. FL