Release Date: Jun 15, 2010
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
[i]What do you think of the album? Let us know by posting a comment below.[/i] Click here to get your copy of Foals’ ‘Total Life Forever’ from the Rough Trade shop.
Ah, the difficult second album... Ah, the difficult second album. Foals have always veered between being none-more-credible darlings (they were invited by The Breeders to play ATP last year; indie nirvana for most) and popular mash-up hounds (after soundtracking Skins house parties for what felt like a decade of E4 adverts), but with ‘Total Life Forever’ they’re making a bid to be something else entirely.
That Foals are ambitious has never been in doubt: the declamatory attack of their debut album, Antidotes, and frontman Yannis Philippakis's penchant for self-aggrandisement saw to that. Even so, the confidence of this follow-up is striking. Not because the Oxford quintet now do everything harder, faster, cooler: quite the opposite. There is stillness and hush here, and a depth of emotion they have never accessed before.
There may be a Grammy award given for album packaging, but as physical matter gives way to digital data and tiny iTunes-nested album covers, this recondite honor will likely become a thing of the past. Even in this age of direct downloads there’s a retrograde pleasure in finding a package that’s the perfect aesthetic companion to the music inside. In this respect, the dreamily illustrated case that encloses Foals’s Total Life Forever, its floating bodies suspended in shadowy blue ether, is a great complement, acting as the ideal segue into the album’s fantastically accomplished sense of mood.
For better and for worse, Foals’ debut Antidotes is a record of youthful energy. Whether you find the likes of “Cassius” and “Balloons” annoying or twitchily captivating, you can’t deny the restless exuberance that courses through them. Even when the band slowed down a bit on “Olympic Airways” and the stellar “Big Big Love (Fig. 2)”, the music still seemed a little frantic.
Having been let down so many times by promising indie bands that trip up on album number two (cough, cough, the Strokes, Bloc Party), I now approach sophomore efforts with trepidation. Fans of Antidotes, the fabulous 2008 debut by Foals, needn't worry. Total Life Forever accomplishes what the best follow-ups do. [rssbreak] The math-inflected UK band demonstrates creative growth, exploring warmer, more natural sounds on After Glow and the Radioheadesque 2 Trees, while vocalist Yannis Philippakis no longer shout-sings every line.
I’ve never heard Antidotes in full and, as it turns out, I don’t need to. For all intents and purposes of this review, that 2008 record may as well not exist since I’m not even going to blather about contrast and how its brass-addled, white-boy funk has been discarded this go around. It hasn’t. Upsetting as this may be to fans that sleep with a copy of Antidotes under their pillows, the album’s most memorable attribute is that even Foals didn’t care for it, at first shuffling Dave Sitek’s production efforts under the rug before outright dismissing it during recent press circuits.
Since the moment they uploaded a bold draft of first single 'Hummer' to their MySpace page almost four years ago, Oxford five-piece Foals have boasted an extraordinary confidence. From discharging Dave Sitek as producer of their first album, Antidotes, to frontman Yannis Philippakkis' Angry Young Man-esque onstage swagger, they have insisted on doing things in an 'our way or no way' style. But their instant endorsement by the yooth music media worked both to their advantage and detriment – at the same time as teenagers up and down the country were scrambling to book them for their famed houseparties, an equal number of jaundiced critics were dismissing them as a flash in the pan, as yet another angular-sounding band of haircuts with arty pretensions.
Within the first seconds of Total Life Forever opener "Blue Blood", it becomes clear that Foals have taken a leap. Front and center, between tick-tocking guitars, frontman Yannis Philippakis begins to sing. When Foals' debut, Antidotes, sent the UK press into hyperbolic fits three years ago, Philippakis boasted what Pitchfork's Tom Ewing perfectly described as a "blank bark"-- one faceless particle amidst many mathematically arranged dance-punk elements.
After Foals scrapped the mix of their debut, Antidotes, by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, it was clear that they were a band that was interested in creating their own sound. That sentiment may be why their follow-up, Total Life Forever, sounds more like a reaction to their first record than a continuation of it. Many of the elements that drove Foals into the spotlight in the first place are definitely still in place.
Very shortly after their just-fine debut album, Antidotes, landed on these shores, the young Brits in Foals up and decided the record wasn’t any good. They said it wasn’t “insurmountable by any means,” and they publicly complained about TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek’s production, which for some people was the only reason to give Foals any thought. Too many times before, we’ve heard the “but this isn’t the album we wanted to make!” argument from bands who underperformed out of the gate, which is why Foals' shtick feels so tired.
Always masters of a deft meshing of disco with post-punk, Oxford, England’s Foals return with their first full-length follow-up to 2008’s intriguingly-artworked Antidotes. Like their previous release, Total Life Forever alternates between keeping it guitar- and keyboard-centric and wandering off into drum-and-bass or strange electronica. Antidotes kept the dance beat pumping, sometimes to a fault, and Total Life Forever follows its throbbing example, for the most part.
Foals’ second album discovers the missing Z, the heart, to their rigorous X and Y axes. Alex Denney 2010 Second albums, as John Lennon once famously remarked, are what happen when you’re busy making other plans. Just ask Oxford five-piece Foals, whose career to date has been distinguished by colossal doses of hype and the sort of niggling pomposity which led frontman Yannis Philippakis to declare his ambition to write a “ballet with beats”.
For a lot of people in the music writing biz, the aughts will go down as the era of marketable post-punk. Two decades after Ian Curtis & company invented the genre, a legion of disciples (Interpol, The Libertines and Bloc Party) took their borrowed sounds to the top of the international charts and festival billings alike. But now in 2010 all is not well for these post-punk upstarts commercial interest is waning, bands are breaking up, and former critical darlings are entering their fourth or fifth record release.
Imagine it’s a beautiful summer day. The sun is shining, but it’s not too hot—there’s a gentle breeze blowing. The soft, green grass is freshly cut, and you’re lying on it. And you’re listening to the second release from the Oxford quintet Foals. The songs are rich with relentless ….