Tracks: Foals, Vampire Weekend, Blaenavon & more

All the biggest and best tracks of the week, rounded up and reviewed.

What. A Week. As the end of Dry January starts to appear as a light at the end of the tunnel, and payday is just round the corner, some of our (and your) favourite bands have decided to help out, dropping long-awaited new music to get you through that last hump before the end of the month.

First up, Foals. After teasing since the new year, the band finally returned this week with new track ‘Exits’, an amalgamation of everything they’ve done before that serves as their definitive statement.

Vampire Weekend also returned this week after over five years away with two new tracks, the pick of which is ‘Harmony Hall’ - a warm, joyous cut that, simply, feels like returning home.

They’re joined in this week’s Tracks round-up by Florence + The Machine, who also returned with a pair of new songs, Nilüfer Yanya, who announced her debut album ‘Miss Universe’ with new banger ‘In Your Head’, Blaenavon, with their furious comeback single ‘Catatonic Skinbag’, Yak - who are back with another taste of their second record - and Sundara Karma, who continue to preview second album ‘Ulphilas’ Alphabet’ with ‘Higher States’.

As we said: What. A. Week.

For our verdicts on all of this week’s biggest and most exciting tracks, all you need to do is scroll down. And if you’re itching to check out everything else out this week, step this way for DIY’s Listening Hub, and our Essential Playlist.

Foals - Exits

Across their four studio albums to date, Foals have undergone a gradual but definite progression, setting off from fiddly debut album ‘Antidotes’ and shuffling the pack through to 2015’s ‘What Went Down’, an apocalyptic hammerblow of filthy, hell-bound riffs. On said fourth album, it felt like the five-piece (now down to four after the departure of bassist Walter Gervers) had taken that trajectory to its natural conclusion, and comeback single ‘Exits’ predictably sounds like a departure from the narrative, and ties their whole career together wonderfully.

Across the track’s six minutes, it channels the intricacy and inherent weirdness of ‘Antidotes’ and the airy playfulness of its follow-up ‘Total Life Forever’, while the towering riffage of ‘What Went Down’ still bubbles under the surface. At once, it resets the band’s parameters and sees them stride forwards into a new era.

Lyrically, ‘Exits’ is just as sure in its message. “The sea eats the sky, but they say it’s a lie / There’s no birds left to fly,” Yannis Philippakis asserts confidently in its first line, before confronting the paranoia of climate change and impending doom. “The world is upside down,” he offers in a superbly catchy chorus barges its way in, brilliantly sure in its message and reasserting Foals as a band with plenty to say.

Musically tying together everything that’s come before and lyrically confronting the paranoia that we’re all feeling, it’s their definitive statement. (Will Richards)

Vampire Weekend - Harmony Hall

Five and a half years is - even by today’s standards of instant gratification - a hell of a long wait between albums. Vampire Weekend hit their stride more than ever before on 2013’s ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’, before disappearing into the ether. The door, then, was left wide open for what form new album ‘Father Of The Bride’ could take. Ezra Koenig’s work with SBTRKT could reasonably be furthered on a record full of leftfield collaboration, and the departure of founding member Rostam Batmanglij could see the band’s sound swerve dramatically.

Barely 20 seconds into new song ‘Harmony Hall’ (which begins with a gorgeous, fiddly acoustic guitar line that the band teased with a 120-minute loop of it, no less), though, when Ezra’s warm, instantly recognisable vocal soars in - “I made a vow in summertime,” he says - it, simply, feels like returning home.

Channelling classic songwriters of the 20th century - there’s more than a few strokes of Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell evident - the track is a warm, hearty embrace. As a sprightly, bouncy piano line rolls in for the track’s pre-chorus and is joined by soaring, layered vocals, colliding in the chorus to make a simply joyous racket.

Of all the experimentation five and a half years could’ve brought for Vampire Weekend, ‘Harmony Hall’ simply sees them refining, expanding their palate subtly and gorgeously, and putting a smacking big grin on everyone’s weary, worn January faces. (Will Richards)

Blaenavon - Catatonic Skinbag

A few weeks back, Blaenavon frontman Ben Gregory posted a heartfelt, brutally honest note about the band’s upcoming second album and detailed a stress-related breakdown he experienced at the end of 2017. The new album, ‘Everything That Makes You Happy’ (which was recorded during his recovery in June of last year), is, he says, “about suffering, guilt, love, family and overcoming trauma,” adding: “I think it might be the most important thing I’ll ever create”. Expectedly, then, a huge catharsis comes pouring out of comeback single ‘Catatonic Skinbag’ from an opening squeal of feedback.

“The song is about isolation,” Ben says. “Cutting oneself off from the world to engage in fruitless sensual pleasures and pretending everything is ok. Watching fucking Netflix and drinking a bottle of wine when you should probably instead be in therapy. But there’s a way out. Art, friendship, love. You don’t have to be a catatonic skinbag. Lol.”

The message is delivered with such power and sincerity on the new single that it becomes a hand on the shoulder in tough times, one to hold close and use to power through disillusion and despair. It helps, of course, that it’s also a thunderous rock song that will inspire as much moshpitting as it does soul-searching. (Will Richards)

Florence + The Machine - Moderation

Florence + The Machine’s fourth album ‘High As Hope’ saw Florence Welch sheltering from the ever-scary outside world in the comforts of home, taking solace in her oldest friends and those closest to her. Writing and releasing the album clearly gave the singer a much-needed catharsis, and on new song ‘Moderation’, one of two new tracks released this week, she feels freer, embracing her playful nature once again.

“Want me to love you in moderation? Do I look moderate to you?” she quips in the track’s first line, before a Florence chorus then bounds its way in, the sign of her putting her foot down and twirling onwards to better times. After all, she’s never been one to do things by halves. (Will Richards)

Sundara Karma - Higher States

“It’s invasive like a blazing probe and has more drops than Diplo,” Sundara Karma frontman Oscar Pollock said, somewhat jokingly we assume, of the band’s new track ‘Higher States’, but he’s got a point. ‘Higher States’ is a glossy, multidimensional addition to the band’s new future-forward, intergalactic direction they’re heading on with upcoming second album ‘Ulfilas’ Alphabet’.

Full of urgent, textured synths, kicking drums and sounding somehow both like 2006 and 2046 at the same time, it’s clear the band want to go bold on the follow up to 2017’s ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’. If Sundara Karma were reincarnated as a dance band, they’d probably sound quite like this. (Rachel Finn)

Nilüfer Yanya - In Your Head

Nilüfer Yanya’s music has always been ruled by weirdness. Melting together jazz, pop and soul over delicious idiosyncracies in both vocal style and guitar playing, the Londoner’s sound has developed gorgeously across a handful of EPs and buzz-building singles, all swerving convention and tradition. Last song ‘Heavyweight Champion Of The Year’, released towards the end of 2018, showed this best, with stabs of dulled guitar popping out in an unusual, unexpected rhythm.

The singer has now returned with details of her debut album ‘Miss Universe’, and marked the occasion with the release of her first hit; new song ‘In Your Head’ is a euphoric, shattering pop song. While Nilüfer’s music has always skirted around the sweet spot and used evasiveness as its greatest weapon, ‘In Your Head’ barrels straight into a hugely catchy chorus.

A live favourite for a good while now, the song has always been a standout of the singer’s sets, and sounds even more massive on record. All her weirdness is still present here - the sharp guitar line in its verse is far from traditional, and her voice jumps between ranges with grace and style - but with the track’s chorus, a straight-forward rush of guitars, drums and a soaring vocal line, she breaks through to another plain, proving herself just as adept at penning a radio-bound pop-rock banger as she is with the unusual guitar music we know her for. It’s an absolute delight. (Will Richards)

Yak - This House Has No Living Room

Given singer Oli Burslem’s recent admission that he spent a period of time living in his car after spunking all his second album advance on a big jolly to Australia, you could read forthcoming LP ‘Pursuit of Momentary Happiness” grand, swooning closing track in a fairly literal fashion. However, we’re pretty sure there’s a more conceptual idea going on within ‘This House Has No Living Room’ than merely lamenting the perils of sleeping with a gear stick wedged in your spine.

Elegiac and sparse, it’s the bleary-eyed, fragile morning after following the London trio’s normal sonic chaos; allowing Oli’s actually rather lovely croon to come to the fore without the distractions of their usual sensory overload, it highlights a contemplative side to the band that they wear well. “And everyone that you have lost, you’ll meet again,” intones the singer before a final twittering dawn chorus drags us into the light. Heavenly stuff. (Lisa Wright)

Tags: Foals, Listen

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