Album Review: Foals – Total Life Forever

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The music press has a way of over-hyping bands. In their review of Foals introductory release, 2008’s Antidotes, NME referred to the young band as “the new Radiohead” reminding everyone, “Radiohead’s first album was not ‘The Bends’ but ‘Pablo Honey’.” Time is telling and such grand assertions rarely work out. Such is the case for Foals. Their second album, Total Life Forever is an impressive effort, but nothing remarkable as once hoped/predicted.

Trying to categorize Foals is a strange task, not because they defy categorization but because they are, in essence, typical UK indie rock. It’s indie rock that comes solely from other indie rock, indie infused indie rock if you will. The sound is reminiscent of Antidotes; tight guitars rummaging in 4/4, layers of production, repetitive rifts that steadily build, and a lyrical theme that questions the trappings of modern society. But where the first album was laced with interesting, veritable, and compelling ideas, Total Life Forever gets bogged down in the rigor of its technicality, over run by its production.

Foals take their music seriously, at times bordering on over-ambitious or obsessive. Tracks like “Alabaster” and “Spanish Sahara” offer fine guitar work, but nothing for the listener to latch onto other than feelings of bland or bleak. The tracks where they loosen up and add touches of funk (“Total Life Forever”, “This Orient”) benefit greatly from it.

Other bright patches come by the way of “Blue Blood” and  “Black Gold”. The former offering lengths of compounding fret work before giving way to a spacious bridge where lead singer Yannis Philippakis yells “I don’t know how.” The latter applying an exotic rhythm over a minimalist bass line that will keep the listener bobbing their head until the final, forceful crescendo.

When dealing with hype, bands often sacrifice authenticity for popular appeal. There are moments on Total Life Forever where they sound near identical to the likes of Bloc Party, Phoenix, or Robin Pecknold –- artists that have been successful in generating buzz — presumably in attempt to capitalize on what might be popular. They even drop clichés about technology, “singularity is here to stay,” like we haven’t heard it before.

Keep in mind; the members of Foals are still in their early to mid-twenties. Often time, young bands have to go through a period of gestation. The composition and craftsmanship on this album impress. The musicianship is respectable, the musicians technically proficient, and ridiculous comparisons aside, they probably have a good album or two in their future.

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