Record Review: Foals, “Total Life Forever”

Foals, Total Life Forever

Bands are occasionally mentioned in the same breath as David Byrne and/or Talking Heads, though I find most of these comparisons strained at best. With Total Life Forever, however, I have to agree with Clash Music‘s pronouncement that “David Byrne is a useful reference point,” as are Talking Heads, when discussing Foals’ latest effort. The layering of Foals’ compositions separates them in many ways from Talking Heads’ oft-minimalist approach, but there is something to the rhythmic undercurrent of Total Life Forever that evokes the driving energy of Remain in Light, something in vocalist Yannis Philippakis’ delivery that is (at times) appreciably reminiscent of Byrne’s, something about how the band marries the angular to the accessible that reminds me of Talking Heads.

A number of critics have noted a maturation of Foals’ sound on Total Life Forever, a desire to take the time and space to develop the original voice first heard on Antidotes instead of merely relying on the inertia of hype machines to continue onwards. With Total Life Forever, it’s become undeniable that Foals are cut from a very different fabric than the majority of the other young British indie-rock outfits, too many of which are a dime a dozen and forgotten by next week. Drowned in Sound aptly remarks, “As the press clamoured to label [Foals] with every ‘now’ tag going, they somehow remained imperious – and, with Total Life Forever, they’ve turned out an album that simultaneously extends the itchy, agitated blueprint of Antidotes and tramples all over the reputation it ended up earning them.”

While I am not of the opinion that Antidotes is an album that should have either the dismissive scenester or hipster tag attached to it, there’s no denying the creative progress made by Foals on Total Life Forever. Even the most radio friendly offerings — “Miami,” the title track, and “This Orient” — are complex, sophisticated compositions that many of Foals’ peers couldn’t hope to craft. Then there are songs like “Black Gold,” which opens with such swagger and builds to a gloriously stratified finish; the initially veiled, darkly unfolding “Spanish Sahara”; and the ethereal, intensifying “2 Trees.” There is so much going on in Foals’ music, yet this intricacy does not impede the songs’ accessibility or poignancy, nor does it come across as pretentious; it draws you into the music and reveals layer after layer with repeated listening.

With so many bands lacking the stamina to continue living up to the hype or the promise of their first recordings, it’s refreshing that Foals’ sophomore effort is of this caliber — both a fulfillment of the potential demonstrated on Antidotes and a transcendence of all expectations, even for those of us who didn’t see Foals as a “flash in the pan.” All said and done, Total Life Forever is a brilliant record, one that impresses me more each time I start the album over.

Foals’ website
Foals on Sub Pop Records
Foals on MySpace

Total Life Forever on iTunes
Total Life Forever on Amazon

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