Standing still in today’s music climate will see you die with your feet nailed to the floor. Most nu-rave bands, to take one example, are contemplating how to fit into a coffin with their guitars stuffed under their chins. Foals were initially described in similar terms to those applied to contemporaries like So So Modern and (incorrectly) Klaxons, on account of their post-punk guitar trickery and frantic dance beats.
But unlike their contemporaries, Foals have developed their sound beyond what anyone could have expected, maturing at a phenomenal rate. Not that Antidotes sounded juvenile exactly, or that they’ve gone middle of the road – but most bands progress in increments – but Total Life Forever suggests they’ve skipped entire sections of evolution. This is not a band that could be accused of unthinking stasis.
The first single Spanish Sahara hinted at where Foals were headed. Its purpose here is to provide an atmospheric centrepiece; a slow burning lament around which the rest of the album revolves. Yannis Phillipakis’ voice has changed considerably; no longer barking out lyrics, he’s taken on a versatile croon that suggests he’s a better vocalist than anyone gave him credit for. Blue Blood’s engaging world-funk, for example, finds him singing as if he’d been fronting Fleet Foxes for the last year.
The trademark treble drenched guitars still remain, but now they serve to add flavour rather than to drive songs forward. The band’s overall sound is more expansive and the warm production of ex-Clor man Luke Smith gives the band the heart they’d lacked previously. He has the band playing as a whole, with the guitars no longer to the fore, and the resultant wall of twisted sonics is welcoming, though at times confusing and strangely desolate too.
Foals no longer seem to be on a mission to frug frantically and leave a stain on the carpet all within four minutes. There are danceable moments and frantic drum patterns that will cause muscles to twitch involuntarily, but they are imbedded in thoughtful, drawn-out, linear pieces. Afterglow features a Yannis vocal that channels a soulful ’80s Robert Smith, drifting over a laidback soundscape that suggests the band have been concentrating on atmospherics and not just hooks. When the drums of Jack Bevan explode at the midpoint, the band switch through the gears and fizz into life with streams of guitars interweaving with vocal harmonies and waves of feedback. It’s as forceful and eminently danceable as the band has ever been. The fact that they’re not afraid to let the song sprawl implies that this time out they’ve followed their hearts rather than their slide rules.
Elsewhere Foals have expanded their range considerably. There’s the tribal chants of What Remains, or the unbelievably poppy delights of Miami which could’ve been written by Prince in his heyday. The title track takes The Lemonheads‘ Into Your Arms and forces it to join the P-Funk Allstars. Like Black Gold, the song which follows, its regimented rhythms and sparse structure are one of the few moments that recall the Foals sound of old. Then there’s the industrial pounding of Alabaster which is strangely light on the ears, coming across like Jean Michel Jarre as re-imagined by Einstürzende Neubauten. In broadening their horizons they’ve not sacrificed quality, every note and sound is perfectly executed. Foals have made impressive strides forward, and you’d be mad not to follow them.