Ah Foals. No, not little horses! Those semi-Oxford educated ragamuffins who became like marmite in 2007 when their spiky, completely angular debut album “Antidotes” hit the shelves and the likes of “Cassius” were earworms all year round! They were the poster boys of math-rock! Well, then they hid in a cave somewhere on the continent, had massive arguments and the drummer was at the height of depression (rumour has it that he wore the same tracksuit bottoms to the studio every day for months on end…) The result is “Total Life Forever”, an album that doesn’t quite throw off the shackles of their past but puts a rather large and deep footprint in the future.
It’s an album of two halves, in the best possible way. Usually when I say that I mean that one half is great and the other is a bit, well, meh, but here it’s tone that is changed. After the halfway point in the album things get darker and heavier, but never once does the album seem to drag or plod along. It’s a bit much to say that every song is a complete triumph but it’s getting there…
So… if this was an old tape we could discuss Side A. It starts with “Blue Blood”, a song that builds up steadily on single guitar-plucking riff and frontman Yannis Philappakis’ voice echoing around in an enclosed space. Gradually it all opens up to reveal a more spacious, breathable and, yes, accessible sound that is completely their own. Many bands have tried to replicate the intricate guitar-playing of Foals, demonstrated on the first track, but none have quite achieved it.
Here, Foals have decided that the spikiness of the first album should be ditched in favour of a more mature sound. Never fear though: second track, and new single, “Miami” is hip, danceable and the pinnacle of cool. Everything Foals once were, distilled into this more grown-up package. You can still hear the influences of math-rock in the chorus, but it’s toned done and acceptable. Personally, I like the title track’s more muscular take on what they used to be: it seems to jerk along a bit with Yannis singing in an oddly staccato-smooth way (angular sometimes, smooth at others. Weird) and then everything joind together on the chorus and seems to play and stop at the same time. It’s quite attention-grabbing and unique.
“Spanish Sahara” is designed to be the centrepiece of the album, a long, sprawling opus that I featured a few months ago: it’s still as fresh and tender as it was then but now it seems a little tweaked to fit the album format. That’s not a bad thing, as “Sahara” still maintains its beauty and vision with an extra layer of slight gloss on it. Lovely. The final track in this initial half is the second single “This Orient”. At the beginning we hear a clockwork synth that sounds more Jonsi or Sigur Ros (ahem, even though they’re essentially the same thing) than it does Foals. But the pounding drums rolls and quiet-loud format is touching and grabbing, even if this is the most conventional track on the album.
The second half delves a little more deeper into the dark side: you get the distinct impression that these songs were written during the more turbulent and difficult stages of production and that the first half is the sunny side. Introduced by the doom-laden, piano-led interlude “Fugue”, we’re led into “After Glow”, which at first is sparse and bleak but then explodes into a random flurry of guitar riffs and drum rolls. Some of the guitars screech so loudly that it sounds almost apocaplyptic, definitely capturing the mood of the band at the time. “Alabaster” has an underlying drum sound that wouldn’t be out of place in a song by The Knife or Fever Ray. Again it’s a slow-burner, employing a wall of drums that sound like thunder and lightning to capture the dark mood and carry the song through.
“2 Trees” is the softest moment in this half, sounding a little bit like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Soft Shock” and providing some relief from the onslaught of the previous two tracks. The album ends on “What Remains”, a song that ties together everything you’ve heard in the album. It’s all there: the monstrous guitar riffs, the math-rock influences, the pounding drums and tender synths. It’s a dark but nice way to round off the album.
If you try to keep out of your mind some of the slightly wooden lyrics that go through the album (hey, why do you think I didn’t mention them), “Total Life Forever” is well worth your hard-earned money. It sits on the fence between mature and cool, and shouldn’t disappoint either newcomers or die-hard fans.