Album: Foals, Total Life Forever (Transgressive / Warners)

Subtle, slinky and smart – Foals turn into stallions

Reviewed
Sunday 09 May 2010 00:00
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Warner Music (the megabucks major behind the sham-indie front of Transgressive) are giving Foals the big push, presumably in the hope that Yannis Philippakis and his band might follow their indie-dance peers Friendly Fires to festival-bill-topping status.

If so, it seems a slightly unrealistic target. Total Life Forever is more or less devoid of dancefloor bangers (although lead single "This Orient" comes close). The Oxford quintet themselves have described their second album as "tropical prog" and "like the dream of an eagle dying", and those starting points are as instructive as any.

Recorded in Gothenburg with producer Luke Smith (former guitarist with Clor), it's an album which sees Foals move on from the quasi-math rock jerkiness of their early material to a more liquid sound, with the pleasingly superficial sparkle of sunlight on a rippling stream. It's subtle and slinky, with hints of the Talking Heads of "Naïve Melody" and the Blue Aeroplanes of "...And Stones".

It's a thoughtful, even intellectual record, with words you wouldn't normally expect to hear on Xfm drive time (singularity, residue), but given that the lead singer studied English at St John's College Oxford, you'd be disappointed if this were not the case.

And it isn't merely verbal window-dressing: Philippakis has a way with a metaphor ("I see you lying there, like a lilo losing air") when he can be bothered. For all the restraint they're displaying this time around, Foals have also learnt a thing or two about dynamics: see the chanting-and-handclaps breakdown on the title track, and the crescendo that simmers up through "Spanish Sahara" without you noticing it coming.

Best of all is "2 Trees" on which, in his forever faintly mournful tones, Philippakis sings "give blood today, each drop away..." while sounding like someone who's already donated one pint too many, while the minimalism of the rest of the record is swept aside by a big production with shamelessly uncool echoes of U2 circa The Unforgettable Fire or Simple Minds on New Gold Dream.

It might just be their masterpiece.

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