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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Foals: Total Life Forever – album review

Foals - Total Life Forever

To put Foals’ new album, Total Life Forever into context with Antidotes – sonically, it’s akin to the effect of Ritalin on an angsty personality – the world becomes a calmer place.

The debut offered heaps of staccato drum beats, chanted lyrics and fiercely plucked guitars, all at their now signature low chest height. Some of those elements are still audible, but this new album is an exercise in melody, singing riffs and changes in pace which expose a softer side to the Oxford quintet. If Antidotes was a new and brilliant yet at times, anxious debut, Total Life Forever is beautiful, measured and ingenious.

Foals obviously don’t like being so firmly wrapped around the math rock clothes peg anymore. That said this offering still has elements of taughtly-picked riffs – Blue Blood, After Glow and The Orient to name a few, the latter making a ‘Western feeling’ sound like something to strive for.

The band has also still kept some really complex, classical, math rock experimental rhythms at the heart of what they do. This intricacy is bolstered by the fact the band still have that knack of using repeated lyrics not just as lyrics intrinsically in themselves, but as extra instruments and rhythmic tools to layer up their sound. Here, it’s done rather more deftly across the board than on Antidotes, perhaps to best effect on title-track, Total Life Forever, where a sung element weaves itself in and out of guitars to enchanting effect.

You can almost picture lead singer, Yannis Pilippakis, Walter Gervers and Jimmy Smith loosening the grip of their whitened fingertips around the fingerboards of their guitars, allowing the notes to ring out and pack the album full of melody. And if the band’s lyrics had previously sounded cold, this album puts them out of that line of fire. For starters, Miami – one of the most recognisably mainstream of the album’s tracks – asks in a pigeon-toed fashion, “Would you, be there, be there for me?” whilst managing to maintain the angular template.

At times, it feels like the five sank themselves into a peaceful REM state to write the new material. Floating, Windowlicker Aphex Twin rhythms surface on Black Gold with high-pitched tinkling plucked riffs, whilst 2 Trees has lulling In Rainbows Radiohead-esque drums, as “Don’t give up, let go” is just audible over the top with devastatingly sad, soaring guitars. Then there is the majestic Spanish Sahara, which builds and builds to a glorious, euphoric release.

In a typically self-deprecating but oddly charming interview, Foals recently declared that their intention for the second album was that it would be better than the first. Some might argue Total Life Forever is a departure from Antidotes’ enigmatic brilliance that offered something different to its peers. In truth, the second still has all this, but thankfully the band chose not remain static with their sound. Instead, like all the best upgrades, they’ve kept what is integral to music they love, whilst adding in so much more that makes it exactly the kind of progress you would hope for from a band of their original promise.

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3 Responses

  1. You’ve done it again! Superb writing!

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