There is something refreshingly un-British about Foals. Debut album Antidotes was unashamedly cerebral, musically technical (the only other UK indie-ish band that springs to mind with such an accomplished drummer is Bloc Party, and even their own lead singer has concluded that they’re shit after all), artistically ambitious and lyrically wilfully abstract, from a band confident enough to leave their first two singles off the record and fill an album with mathy guitars and horns. Danceable enough, and compelling live, the Foals formula so far has been enough to see them get a big deal, lots of hype, attention and lots of fans, for whom expectations for album No. 2 will be very high.
The cover of follow-up Total Life Forever is intriguing. It reminds me of an old BBC ident featuring some computer-generated hippos (I think) swimming in ascending circles. Perhaps it is meant to reference Nevermind; or maybe Spiderland by Slint or Red Medicine by Fugazi, both of which also feature bands in a communal dip (is that what bands do?). More likely is that being immersed in blue somehow seems to suit the direction Foals have taken with these 11 tracks. It seems that, of all the ways forward suggested by Antidotes it is that of Red Socks Pugie and Olympic Airways that they have run with – softer, warmer, more melodic. The horns are gone, replaced by pulsing synths. Most striking of all is the development of Yannis’ vocals. Previously his perpetual yelp wore a little thin exercised on every song; it is a big, and welcome surprise to hear his opening lines of Blue Blood sound a bit like Fleet Foxes (is it just me?). Everything feels more mature and personally committed, the lyrics no longer defeated by the surrounding frenetics. When this new-found sensitivity works, it’s great – Spanish Sahara is lovely, and Miami has an irresistible groove. But when it doesn’t, it feels like the arrangements are trying to support vocal melodies which, however earnest and life-affirming they’re trying to be aren’t strong enough to be at the fore so clearly. At which point it all starts sounding very dreary indeed (This Orient, Alabaster), which is a shame – the material doesn’t quite back up the big-hearted intent.
Words: Tom Farncombe
Listen: FOALS – Total Life Forever