Foals’ second album discovers the missing Z, the heart, to their rigorous X and Y axes.
Alex Denney 2010
Second albums, as John Lennon once famously remarked, are what happen when you’re busy making other plans. Just ask Oxford five-piece Foals, whose career to date has been distinguished by colossal doses of hype and the sort of niggling pomposity which led frontman Yannis Philippakis to declare his ambition to write a “ballet with beats”. Foals, he seemed to be suggesting, were in the Future Business.
The band’s 2008 debut, Antidotes, delivered on the early promise of their cool-yet-frenetic style. But the widescreen production from TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek hinted at the limitations of their approach – something, you felt, would have to give for Foals to step things up a notch. Their answer on Total Life Forever is to relax the binary plotting of their punk-funk jams and punch up the pop factor. If this all sounds distressingly unlike the future, that’s because it is. But we needn’t fret: the trick here is to locate a beating heart, the missing Z to their rigorous X and Y axes, without losing sight of what made them so exciting in the first place.
First single This Orient is compelling evidence they’ve pulled off the balancing act with panache, shades of Steve Reich infusing the swoonsome pop splendour Bloc Party could never quite muster. Meanwhile Spanish Sahara is a mortally-fixated centrepiece, inspired by the young Philippakis’ traumatic encounter with a dead dog floating in the sea. Building in vaguely post-rock fashion from stark beginnings that recall The xx’s tousled melancholy, it reaches a superb finale, easily the most affecting thing they’ve done.
Indeed, this album’s opening salvos make such light work of this lightening up business you’ll wonder if it’s The Mystery Jets’ new record you’ve walked in on, not Foals’. The chimed intro of Blue Blood features Yannis properly singing and could almost be Glasvegas, at least until it suckers you with an ace chorus that steps directly to the dancefloor. Miami is 80s stadium funk with barrelling bass and a strangely hip hop undertow. And the title-track feels similarly funky, but in a precision pop context. Elsewhere, 2 Trees finds subtler ways to grow: it’s a breathy beauty recalling the delicately-knitted textures of Can at their most blissed-out.
Total Life Forever’s break with the past is astutely judged, the execution is even better. For all their occasionally high-falutin’ talk of Arthur Russell and Fela Kuti and the Wu-Tang Clan as influences, Foals’ victory here is to loosen up and enjoy the moment. After all, the future can be a self-defeating business.
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