Oxford’s finest, Foals are one of Britain’s most consistently impressive bands of our generation; an act that can unite people years and years apart in age. Ever since the band’s math rock beginnings of Antidotes in 2008, right through the dreamwave atmospheres of Total Life Forever in 2010, past the stadium rock styles of Holy Fire in 2013, the gritty Rockstar aesthetic of What Went Down in 2015, all the way up to the prog-rock podiums of Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost in 2019; Foals have remained a truly unmissable music act. Here are their top 40 songs according to us:
40: The French Open – From Antidotes
A great album opener with some rather impressive French chant-style singing in it, The French Open is a song literally about tennis. It has such a cool build to it with math-rock guitars, quirky horns and a whole lot of personality. This song was my first exposure to Foals and needless to say I have been hooked ever since, even if I did think Yannis was French for a bit.
39: Black Gold – From Total Life Forever
The main lyrical premise in the verses is taken from, of all things, a Mike Tyson documentary; in which he says his mentality means he has to be “top of the world” or “bottom of the ocean”. It continues this all-or-nothing attitude into the chorus with powerful lyrics about the future and its unpredictable nature, supported by a progressive instrumental. It’s one of Foals’ most impressive lyrical showings in its maturity, and it also boasts a pretty killer instrumental bridge too.
38: Stepson – From Holy Fire
One of the archetypal sounds to truly define the Holy Fire era of Foals was the instrumental work on Stepson. The faded guitars along with the slick drum patterns serve as a subtle canvas for Yannis to sing over; something he does with apt emotion and power. The repetition of him “falling” give a larger than life feel to the passion even if it is performed at a slower pace than other cuts.
37: Give It All – From What Went Down
On each Foals album there is one glistening slow burner, a track that cuts through emotionally and is performed with sombre melody. On What Went Down it came in the form of Give It All, a lyrical stroke of beauty about a diminishing love. The song is performed with such air-grasping passion, with such a glamorous dominant lead synth line and pulsing emotions from the voice of Yannis.
36: Tron – From Antidotes
Staying true to its robotic named nature, Tron begins with a glitchy electronic sample before blending into a math-rock formula. The lyrics are very anti-consumerist and appear to fire at the crooked systems within powerful organisations, something that a band can feel immensely proud of curating on their debut record. Minimalism can often be key and it works here for sure.
35: Big Big Love (Fig .2) – From Antidotes
This one is a troubling love anthem about the fear of not being honest with true feelings; and has the longest runtime of any song from Foals’ debut album. The guitars gleam throughout as Yannis pains through difficult lyrics about wishing the relationship could have panned out differently; using different gritty imagery to relate to neither person showing affection at the right times.
34: Syrups – From Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
In an utterly hilarious NME track-by-track interview about the new record, Foals describe Syrups as a two-parter. The first part is a “quite pristine computer recorded version” and the second is “basically the band after a few drinks trundling into the practice room and sort of assaulting it”. I truly don’t think anyone could have put this better, either way the song is mint.
33: My Number – From Holy Fire
Every indie party playlist to have ever existed has My Number on it and it honestly isn’t a bad song at all, there is in fact quite an obvious reason that it got so big. I fear that just over-saturation killed it too much for me to rank it any higher, but I still love coming back to that unruly chorus every now and then.
32: Café D’Athens – From Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
Marimbas and xylophones galore on this one, Café D’Athens is one of the weirdest songs Foals have ever worked on. It was birthed from Yannis messing around on a computer before flying out to Paris to record it with live instrumentation. I love the harmonic vocals and if you tell me this sound wasn’t directly inspired by Radiohead’s In Rainbows album, well then quite frankly you’re a liar.
31: Total Life Forever – From Total Life Forever
As the title track of Foals’ second album, Total Life Forever serves as the beacon in which the rest of the album is based around. The lyrical content is very cryptic but appears to sway towards finding safety and warmth in another person’s company, stating that “total life forever will never be enough”. Sonically it is polarising and subdued at times but the chime-styled synths and funky bass riffs spice up the backing track and bring it to life.
30: On The Luna – From Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
If Donald Trump shitpost references are your bag then look no further than On The Luna. On a serious note, the second single from Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 is a groovy technical blend of the riff-heavy flavours Foals are known for and the experimental electro-rock route they dipped into on this album. It’s a vibrant banger full of life and melody.
29: Everytime – From Holy Fire
A quirky Holy Fire cut in its own right, Everytime has some really stellar guitar moments alongside steady progressive drum beats. It’s unsure entirely what the song is about but with the “every time I see you, I wanna sail away” line in the chorus, it would be a fairly safe guess to have this one down as a song about dangerous love; leaving Yannis captivated by their beauty.
28: Exits – From Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
Serving as the beacon point for the underlying message of Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1, lead single Exits takes on the ongoing dystopia that is rapidly becoming a reality in modern society. The song paints an image of the world burning all around him, giving a damning verdict of the dread we are all facing but doing so in a way of musical importance; making a catchy anthem in the process.
27: Mountain At My Gates – From What Went Down
Mountain At My Gates was the second single from WWD, with the song idea blossoming from an instantaneous thought that Yannis had in the studio. It is a truly poignant lyric and one which served as the base foundations of a track which has gone on to become Foals’ second biggest hit behind My Number. It does its job as an uplifting anthem and uses the characters referred to as “you” by Yannis to great effect as he states that they give him his “fate”, “lungs” and “voice”.
26: Night Swimmers – From What Went Down
One of the most atmospheric cuts Foals have managed since their sophomore album Total Life Forever, the quality of Night Swimmers is the level of pacing and control it has while still managing to maintain a solid groove. The guitars sound jolly and playful, the drum tempo is bouncy and the synth line is precise; all set in stone for a really well-executed guitar solo following the catchy chorus. This is certainly one of the more nostalgic tracks from their more recent albums.
25: Moon – From Holy Fire
One of the most mellow Foals tracks out there, the Holy Fire finale looks at the end of the world but in a way of “beautiful destruction” as Yannis himself says about the track. The isolated guitar strings are so haunting, coinciding with the hushed vocals beautifully before building to a final outro moment which is the musical equivalent of seeing a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
24: Cassius – From Antidotes
It was Foals’ biggest hit from debut record Antidotes and the idea behind Cassius is wonderfully crafted. The song is about two-faced people who show different sides to themselves to your detriment, and is called Cassius after Muhammad Ali, who famously was born Cassius Clay before changing his name. Nice. The song itself has a great riff, cool horns and a head-swaying feel to it.
23: Birch Tree – From What Went Down
Crafted during a hungover soundtrack while on tour, Birch Tree had one of the cooler birthings of all the Foals songs. Yannis described his discovery of a drum machine to help him layer the tune and give it some hip-hop grooves, while also using smooth guitars to nod to their old math rock avenues from Antidotes. It’s quite a moody listen, particularly in the part of Yannis’ recognition that everything is finite and against the clock, but the song’s warm embrace helps you through it.
22: Miami – From Total Life Forever
Total Life Forever’s third single was Miami and it focused on love and the promises you make for someone who matters so much. Promising the ocean and all things beautiful in there to this significant other is a really solid metaphor and one which runs as a constant theme throughout the album, even if there is the occasional lurk towards betrayal and insecurity. The instrumental is warm and fuzzy, particularly in that kick of the chorus when the drums step up another notch.
21: Bad Habit – From Holy Fire
The clanging drums that make up the bulk of this track’s instrumental are so unique, some of the finest percussion work of Foals’ career. Along with that we have the beautiful high-pitched vocal delivery of Yannis and a dreamy piece of electronica in the background to help Bad Habit float through the motions. “I’m a bad habit, one you cannot shake” is such a great line, also shout out the guitar solo before the wondrous climax.
20: Alabaster – From Total Life Forever
Named after the soft mineral rock (presumably anyway given the amount of cave references there are in this song), Alabaster is a mysterious but fascinating listen. The lyrics are so cryptic and sound like something from a proverb, but it tells a wondrous tale of a girl Yannis met and the stunning effect she had not just on him; but her whole neighbourhood. As is the case with many Total Life Forever cuts, the redeeming feature of Alabaster is its eerie beauty. both lyrically and instrumentally.
19: Olympic Airways – From Antidotes
Do you ever just walk around for the sake of it? Freely travelling with no set destination? Well if you do then Olympic Airways is for you. This is a luscious cut in which these aforementioned wanderers are compared to birds when on their travels, looking at the beauty of going away for a while: “let’s disappear ’til tomorrow”. It is one of the standout moments from Foals’ first full length LP and a true foundation builder for their future endeavours.
18: London Thunder – From What Went Down
A sombre comedown of a track, London Thunder is one of the band’s tamest ballads ever and looks at the challenges of feeling lost and so far away from home. It’s an intriguing take on tour life and the effect constant travelling can have on you, both positively and negatively. The guitar licks are gorgeous, the production is layered, and Yannis’ vocals are aptly subtle as he sings about life-changing experiences.
17: White Onions – From Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
Some of the most maniacal performances of Foals’ career, White Onions takes very little time to get going into action. The song has this punchy synth line run alongside some rapid-fire drums before thrashing guitars kick in, all set up for Yannis to frantically deliver lyrics about escaping. He described it as the “labyrinth” and I struggle to argue with that, as Yannis uses “lairs” “mazes” and “cages” to describe his struggle.
16: This Orient – From Total Life Forever
It’s not often a song comes from nothing, but This Orient was one of those cases. It was written by the whole band off the back of a sonic idea they’d had in rehearsals, in which they were messing around with modular synthesisers to manipulate vocal pitching. It went on to become the lead single off Total Life Forever and one of their catchiest songs to date, especially that goregous chorus.
15: Late Night – From Holy Fire
A song dipped in gold, Late Night possesses such a powerful stronghold over Foals fans for it’s hauntingly sinister nature and it’s agony-riddled lyrics. Yannis pours his heart out over women from all aspects of his life, varying from his mother to ex-lovers. The dazzling riff in the bridge just adds to the tense atmosphere of the song before spilling over to a fascinating finale.
14: Blue Blood – From Total Life Forever
The opening sequence and blissful introduction to Foals’ dreamy second album Total Life Forever is Blue Blood, an ethereal art-rock track with high-pitched guitar chords and lyrics about escaping reality. It feels like a direct nod to Yannis’ home and family life, relating the “blood” to his Greek heritage and never wanting to let go of those roots. The song has such a motivating aurora and is the ideal way to start the coastal journey they took on this album.
13: Milk & Black Spiders – From Holy Fire
For a song so beautifully crafted, I was truly caught off guard upon learning that the title came from listing two things that drummer Jack Bevan isn’t a fan of. The song itself is a sweet and serene anthem about a close love, using a desirable chorus and some wacky instrumentation to create the aurora of intense emotion. Check the banjo sounds out in the song’s breakdown, a subtle but nice touch.
12: In Degrees – From Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
A colossal musical left turn, but a bloody good one at that. Foals went for disco vibes on In Degrees with glamorous synths and electronic bass lines to create an irresistible indie-pop track; a bonafide highlight from their most recent record. The lyrics talk of the dread of climate change but not in a way that make you feel down, quite the opposite. It sounds like an LCD Soundsystem number, and I won’t be about to complain with that.
11: Black Bull – From Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 (Upcoming Release)
Have Foals ever sounded this feral and primal? Absolutely not. The lead single from Part 2 of their Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost double album is an absolute barnstormer of a rock anthem that possesses some of the grittiest, cutting edge performances of the band’s career. Yannis’ psychotic aggression in his vocals is matched by thrashing guitars and cymbal crashing; if this is what Part 2 is all about then count me the fuck in.
10: Snake Oil – From What Went Down
A bass guitar heavy rocker of an anthem to open up the top 10, Snake Oil is one of the finest examples of Foals’ abilities as an irresistibly cool rock band. The riff and drop in the chorus is as sonically pleasing as it gets, while the way Yannis owns the track vocally becomes awe-inspiring. The song context looks at the idea of using Snake Oil in the metaphorical sense for an unproven benefit, and it’s never sounded more intriguing than it does when sung here.
9: Sunday – From Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
Upon release, someone I know likened this song to Born Slippy, something which tickled me greatly because I can genuinely see what they mean. The progressive build and eventual breakdown is very Madchester trip-rave inspired, but there’s far more to this song that makes it rank this high. The emotive lyrics are a warming take on the world’s inevitable peril, but who cares because we’ve got all our friends here? It’s definitely the best song from ENSWBL1.
8: Red Socks Pugie – From Antidotes
Some of the finest use of imagery in Foals’ career, what is so great about Red Socks Pugie’s lyrics is how it manages to encapsulate the different feelings love can give us. I absolutely adore the way the song builds into that gorgeous chorus, and best believe the cathartic rush gained from screaming “oh hell no” along to the song is as therapeutic as it gets.
7: Balloons – From Antidotes
“We fly balloons on this fuel called love” sings Yannis on the band’s lead single from Antidotes, setting the precedent for this enigmatic ballad full of pulsing drums and rhythmic guitar playing. It is undoubtedly one of the band’s finest instrumental performances ever and the vocal knockout blows served here make it a Foals classic.
6: Inhaler – From Holy Fire
Listening to this song was the moment I truly realised Foals’ potential and ability to be a magnificent stadium rock band, fit to blast the speakers of the biggest arenas anywhere in the world. Yannis’ desperately passionate vocals cut through the instrumental and make the impending crescendo that extra bit special. Basically, Inhaler bangs; really god damn hard.
5: What Went Down – From What Went Down
Well, this one well and truly blew my head off on first listen. We all knew Foals could rock the fuck out, but did we honestly expect them to do it THIS much? I certainly didn’t. The lead single and title track of fourth album What Went Down is a simmering pot of energy, raw delivery and brash desire, exploding to life with each chorus before building towards a biblical crescendo in the bridge. Songs like this make Foals Pyramid Stage worthy.
4: Providence – From Holy Fire
Simply put, this shit absolutely rips. Jack’s manic drumming, the progressive build, it’s the loudest Foals have ever been and the purest example of the band plugging in and turning everything up to eleven. It truly sounds like a jam session turned arena rock classic, and that raw energy is what makes it so great.
3: 2 Trees – From Total Life Forever
The emotional connection I have with a track like 2 Trees means it runs far deeper than being just a song for me. It was a helping hand at a time I really needed it, a voice of reason to help get me back on the right track. The lyrics are so hauntingly beautiful and moving, matched by a stunning guitar backing and synth lines that make you feel like you’re riding on this wave of energy. It’s a song I have plenty to thank for, and one which I share fond memories of with someone who I consider really important in my life. Jesus this soppy shit is a bit much isn’t it, shall i just call it a mega tune and move on?
2: Two Steps, Twice – From Antidotes
Chants, drums, progression, crescendos. This song is utterly mental but oh my god does it work when all pieced together. The guitars play at different speeds, the drums stop and start and the vocals are literally just an urge for us all to jump around and dance; my love for Two Steps, Twice knows no bounds. It builds with authority and when it finally hits, good lord does it hit.
1: Spanish Sahara – From Total Life Forever
As far as I see it, there was literally no other option. It’s one of those songs that must feel worth its weight in gold once you finish it; the rush of walking out the studio after nailing Spanish Sahara, my god it must have felt good. It truly is as close to perfect as an indie anthem can get, sprinkling a perfect mixture of ambience, progression, emotion and relatability into an enthralling near seven minute experience. Yannis tried capturing the intensity of the Greek myth of the Aegean Sea and well, he nailed it. Not since Radiohead have I heard a British band move me with a song quite like Foals did with Spanish Sahara; it’s immortal.