Poppy? Pretentious? Too chilled, or maybe too damn strange? Accusations against Foals will come from all angles, especially on a new album with such expectation resting on it. It is well documented how Yannis Philippakis felt that Antidotes was not the album they wanted to record (despite being loved by pretty much everybody), so by all rights this album should be absolutely astounding . It’ll have to be to please an audience waiting for a creative and atmospheric experience as much as a pop record.
Where Antidotes was a discussion, Total Life Forever is a statement; better organised, sensibly constructed with good ideas in the right places and a collection of rhythms, riffs and hooks to get you, well, hooked. That slight element of freneticism is gone but in its place is all the proof you need that a lively song needs to rack up the BPM. There are 6-minute singles painting desolate landscapes and shorter instances of angular, maze-like intricacy driven through at a dangerous tempo for the limbs but the satisfaction in them is the time allowed for extravagance. Call it pretentious, but the three minutes of fairly repetitive crescendo at the end of ‘Black Gold’ are what allows ‘Spanish Sahara’ to create such a variety of sound in a much more restrained atmosphere after it, and in turn it is that which opens us up to ‘This Orient’ complete with fully discernible chorus, tick-tock drumbeat and a catharsis of a guitar riff bounding out of restraints. The visual nature of this album, as well as its impressively varied sonic accompaniment, strikes you like a film moving before your eyes; Jimmy Smith’s tidal guitar softly moving up against Yannis’ whispering and howling, all tied up by Jack Bevan’s heart murmur drum kit which beats about in a way to terrify cardiologists nationwide.
It’s kind of hard to know what’s going on at times, distinctly reminiscent of a cool party you’ve been invited to but all the kids are dancing in a pretty strange way. Is this intended? Are they just enjoying being themselves or acting up? ‘After Glow’ is where you’ll fall into the trap and join in. 6:09, a semi-trance synth opening built upon by that same ticking guitar and rolling vocal swinging one way to haunting and back around to comforting, and yes that is your head just nodding along without really knowing why. ‘Miami’ struts calmly along and is the sound of Foals enjoying themselves. ‘Alabaster’ is like an Edgar Allen Poe story interpreted by the Mystery Jets and you want to say on some kind of narcotic but this is far too clever; there is no complacency or room for relaxation. You could ignore the whole album first time and feel like you know each song when it comes back around, but don’t be fooled by the first time listen. There is the temptation to say they’ve relaxed, lost their edge or have even got a bit boring. But those aspects are not lost, they have been reined in and controlled into tense rhythms with actual singing and lyrics replacing the sometimes pointless raving they occasionally lapsed into.
Maybe it’s because I’m a huge fan anyway, there are few live bands who can set off an audience like Foals, but I was sold on the first listen. The second I was interested more and contemplated it. By the third I thought it was brilliant. Where Bloc Party tried to make singles and Editors got far too heavy for their own heads, ‘Total Life Forever’ moves along at its own pace and dictates its purpose to you. It’s essentially something to listen to loud in a bedroom and experience in entirety because, kill me for getting sentimental, it will take you on a journey. Whatever you’re looking for from Foals, this album will bring it to you eventually, but it might not be in the place you expect it.
Total Life Forever is released through Transgressive Records on 10/5/10. You can view the video for lead single ‘This Orient’ below.