This is exactly what all sophomore albums should be, or at least aspire to being: A second album that manages to capture many of the qualities that earned the band fans the first time around, without simply being a carbon-copy of the first album. An album which takes the most distinctive and striking elements of that earlier “sound” – in this case the insanely trebly, harmonic-happy guitars; the oddly “detached”, yet strangely stirring vocals; the chanting “gang”-style backing vox; and music which manages to stir the heart as much as it does the feet – and BUILD upon those foundations rather than lazily cloning them.
Foals’ debut album was, for your humble reviewer, an unexpected surprise of the highest order. Just as I was losing interest in most things new and “indie”, just as the likes of Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes were failing to follow up on the promise of their own debut long-players, fate saw fit to dump a “burned” copy of some album named Antidotes into my CD walkman. My first thought was “hmmm, interesting”, soon followed by “hmmm, maybe a tad too Bloc Party for its own good?” The irresistible draw of subsequent listens, however, were quick to crush such blasé dismissals, as I soon came to the conclusion that this was one of those bands in possession of that most rare of qualities in this day and age: Vision!
Yes, their sound perhaps still owed a small debt to the aforementioned Bloc Party, and it’s questionable whether such a defiantly “trebly” guitar sound would have found its way onto a record with such mainstream pretensions if The Strokes’ Is This It hadn’t already acclimatised the public’s ears to such unconventional tactics. But their masterstroke of combining a quirky and often “complex” sense of timing – almost a kind of “math-pop” at times – whilst never being less than “hell-dancy” – to use the elegant words of a friend of mine – surely begged greater comparison to a kind of bastard offspring of Talking Heads and The Dillinger Escape Plan (if such a thing can be imagined)! Whatever the hell it was, it sure had me hooked, and kept me fascinated enough to keep coming back for more and more.
Which brings us back to album number two, Total Life Forever. While not quite as consisently “hell-dancy” as its predecessor, the band this time favouring the more “atmospheric” side of its sound, it’s safe to say that fans who dug some of the “slower” numbers on Antidotes will have no complaints here. It’s a decidedly moodier beast this time around, but having said that, I’d be surprised if it alienates many of the group’s existing fan-base…if anything, it may even launch this band into the stratospheric Heavens they are so clearly aiming for (“Top of the world, bottom of the ocean”, indeed)! Moody yes, but never miserable, this is ultimately uplifting fare for a generation sorely in need of having its mopy butts kicked. Haunting and beautiful, this is stirring stuff indeed…and if this is what all the “emo” kids are listening to this year, then there may be just a smidgen of hope for the human race after all!
It’s also an excellently-constructed album. Hitting its blissfully melancholic peak mid-album with the rather epic “Spanish Sahara” (“I’m the fury in your head, I’m the fury in your bed / I’m the ghost in the back of your head”), before lifting our spirits straight back up with the heart-breakingly joyous “This Orient”. This is one band who knows how to take the listener on a journey, getting the “dancier” stuff out of the way early on and saving most of the slower-tempoed numbers ’til the record’s latter half. Perhaps more modern musicians could learn to sequence albums as well as this, rather than just chucking darts at a dartboard to determine the track order (well, that’s what I assume they do)?! I have absolutely no idea what to expect from the next Foals album, but look forward to being pleasantly surprised yet again.
© Michael Bowser, Music Vice