Monday, May 10, 2010

Album: Foals - Total Life Forever

Total Life Forever (Foals)
Album: Total Life Forever
Transgressive/Subpop, 2010
Rating: ******** (8/10)

Maybe I should keep you all in suspense a little longer, but I'm gonna just break the bad news right here. Total Life Forever is not as good as 2008's Antidotes. Which isn't to say it's a bad album - after all, Antidotes was amazing (and if you haven't heard it, go check it out right now!).

There are two major ways in which Total Life Forever branches off from the band's debut. The first is evident from track one on - this time around, Foals rely far more on Yannis Philippakis's vocals to carry the songs. The opening track, "Blue Blood," leaves Philippakis almost bare and he (mostly) proves up to the task. His voice has always been distinctive while also being really on pitch, a rare enough thing from a male indie singer.

The second alteration the band has made in their sound, obvious in the opening bars of track two, is a move towards their electronic and dance inclinations. Foals were never a proper rock band, and here they've shifted further towards the synthetic and they've really deepened their beats. Sure, funk and dance rhythms provided the foundation of Antidotes, but these rhythms were always couched in an indie rock sensibility. Total Life lets go.

Like one would expect from a band of this caliber, the album has great songs. "Blue Blood" finds Philippakis bravely naked, while a pair of knock-out centerpiece singles keep the record from peaking too soon. "Spanish Sahara" is a warm melancholy with building urgency that breaks into a bizarre, uneasy fluttering pulse. Surprisingly, even this is outdone by what's next. "This Orient" opens with a playful amalgamation of sound but soon reveals itself to be as serious as any other. The tinkering intro opens into lush song with the kind of chorus that will get stuck in your head periodically for years to come - and you won't mind when it does.

Although the mistitled "Fugue" is a short instrumental waste of a track (it sounds like something the band threw together to solve a sequencing/segue issue), the slow, haunted "Albaster" pounds the album back to life. The soft clattering beat of "2 Trees" supports stunning waves of guitar arpeggios while the closer, "What Remains" thunders over some deep, deep bass.

Despite the great songs, despite the immaculate production, despite everything Foals have done right here, this album is a bit disappointing. The slick, rhythmic riff of "Miami" may be first rate, but another band could write this song. No song on Antidotes sounded like anyone but Foals. Total Life is a step towards the generic, both in the use of electronica and in the reliance on lead vocals. The vibrant instruments and the very humanness of the rhythms were what made Foals stand out - way out - from their peers. And while they are still themselves on Total Life, some of their most interesting features are fading more and more into the background. Sacrificing immediacy for polish, the Foals are at risk of losing their edge. Come back, guys!


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