It is fair to say that many artists and bands discover their sound by accident. One classic case is Jimi Hendrix. While he swooned and slid through the New York blues and jazz scene in the mid 1960’s, he remained content with playing the now-jazz-sound of the time with cleanliness and clarity, sticking to the tight-packed pentatonic rules, like every other blues guitarist in the 1960’s music circuit. It was that only until he was spotted, by Linda Keith, that “British bird” whom Keith Richards was dating, in a small New York jazz club, messing around with some amplifiers and blasting out some sharp feedback. Without really knowing much about it, or really even meaning to, Jimi Hendrix had managed to create a whole new genre of blues, jazz and rock. And all he really did was turn his amp up a little bit, fiddle with his whammy bar and pinch a few high-octave harmonics.
The same jinxed gift applied with Foals, way back in the Indie guitar and pop-crazed year of 2007. They burst out of Oxford doing exactly what they wanted to do, which was making weird guitar music. As it happens, they accidentally ended up writing a couple songs, like “Hummer”, “Two Step, Twice”, and “Mathletics”, which a few modern, hipster indie kids decided they could dance to. Ridden with anti-social and plucky guitar harmonies, syncopated funk-like drum beats and mind cutting abstract lyrics, the numerical and post-dance punk sound of Math Rock had been secreted onto British soil, straight from an Oxford flat specked with cigarette butts and the singed remains of post-party students’ hair. It’s safe to say, that Yannis Philippakis and co. made more than just a Mercury Prize nominated contribution to indie music in 2007. “Antidotes” bore us the brain fuzzing funk/dance cross overs of “Cassius” and the trumpet contrasted guitar floor fillers “Balloons” and of course, the techno indie dance house of “Astronauts ‘n’ All”. Foals made guitar and drum music exciting again.
It’s been a fantastic three indie-dance and wobbly-bass years since the release of “Antidotes”, and when Foals burnt a bloody big cigarette burn through the pretentious and over exposed pop faces of Robbie Williams and Lady Gaga. To put it plainly, you can either paddle in the safe shores and money drenched banks of corporate pop culture, or you can scramble up a great big run-up, and dive-bomb straight into the murky waters of musical talent and genius, sending ripples all over the underground indie, and “real”, fan base. Foals dropped themselves in right at the deep end, and sent splashes everywhere, especially for such a young band. Three years later, they’ve taken off their arm-bands, and they’ve dived down into deeper waters. Through “Total Life Forever”, Yannis and his pals have taken a slight step back from raw indie dance tunes that Foals are accustomed to, and instead they’ve thrown themselves straight at the blackboard, dragging their syncopated snare beats and funk influenced bass-line with them.
Straight from the first track, “Blue Blood”, it’s made completely obvious how differently the Oxford fivesome have composed themselves, and the song writing, in this record. The rippling ringing of reverberated electric guitars the intro to “Blue Blood” gives the tingling impression of a watery glockenspiel. Right from the off, Foals have started thinking about and being particular about how they want each note to sound. Yannis’ lyrics seem as awkward and clinically catchy as ever. Yannis uses the same black and white lyrical style, but he strings each syllable together more fluidly than he did in “Antidotes”. As he bellows “You’ve got the blood on your hands, I think it’s my own” he still gives the same vibrating post-adolescent throaty pronunciation on each word. The tightly thwarted echoed guitar plucking is smashed by the deep and lacy funk bass and Foals’ trademark syncopated dance beats race into play following the intro to “Blue Blood”, and trust me, it has your feet tapping to the rhythm, that i can promise you. Foals give a delicate and more submerged sound to the opening of the record. By jumping head first into deeper waters, they’ve got some splash back on their instruments. The album sounds like it’s been recorded under water, purely from the sheer amount of flexed reverb and panning echo that is stapled to each track.
Yannis and co. fumble the mid-teenage awkward and perpendicular anthology of today’s youth culture beautifully in the self-titled track “Total Life Forever”. The edgy break-beat and almost hip-hop like beats will get moody teenaged heads bopping all over the country. More complex cross over funk rhythms are sketched in on the raw and fluent chemistry of Yannis Philippakis and Jimmy Smith then used on “Foals”. Just as they were three years ago, they manage to scribe some beautifully crafted Math Rock guitar harmonies and textures, panning from one ear to another. The pair still play with the same gorgeous “help-me-to-help-you” phonology and technique, but they still give a wet sense of complexity and a more carefully drawn out plan with each melody and harmony cross road. Yannis rings a symphony of alarm bells in each of the country’s youths with the very bold and realist lyrics of “Cause total life forever, will never be enough, no…”. A simple, dead pan line, which manages to nest itself in your mind as you listen. This line, contrasted to the cross-rhythmic red hot beats of the main tune, is simply beautiful, in the most realistically un-beautiful way.
For nearly 8 whole minutes, Foals manage to deter themselves from their normal indie guitars and dance beats, in the albums first single “Spanish Sahara”. In my opinion, this is the most astonishing track on the album. The very uncharacteristic slow start pulses with a shore line sample and echoed foot-step like beat. At first listen, you don’t really grasp that this is really Foals playing a typical Foals song. Only when the gritty vocals of Yannis Philippakis come in does the concept take hold of you. As the track progresses, the new, more mature sound of Foals really establishes itself. The swirly, electro arpeggio’s on the keyboard and the striking flowing guitar solo contrast sublimely. By far, the bravest Foals recording to date.
Away from the technicalities and complex production, techniques used on the album, the grit and teeth of it is simple. It’s an astonishing record, filled to the very brim with panning dance drums and funky bass lines we’ve come to expect and love from Foals. Away from the norm, they’ve thrown in more complex and thought laden harmonies and melodies which burn away at your senses. It’s big. It’s Beautiful. It’s Foals. Its’s “Total Life Forever”. And it will remain firmly in our minds forever.