Review Summary: I would say this album is perfect if I didn't expect them to better it with their next effort.
I have recently discovered that listening to Antidotes, the debut album from UK based Foals, can be rather dangerous with regard to public conceptions of your mental well-being.
Have you ever experienced that euphoric feeling, where your heart swells inside your chest, and suddenly your body just isn’t big enough anymore and you feel every moment that you are about to explode and leave your happy remains bubbling contentedly on the path and yet you really, honestly don’t mind? If you haven’t, go get Antidotes and listen to it through headphones.
I was walking the streets of Wellington just the other day and I made this discovery. I was trying desperately to restrain myself from breaking out into a cross between dancing and skipping along the sidewalk, and from screeching along with Yannis Philippakis’ (lead vocals and guitar) gleeful exclamations. In this second goal, I am afraid I may have failed, based largely on the volume of sheer space between myself and my fellow pedestrians. Normal folk don’t like walking close to crazy people, they think it might catch on.
But you know what? It was worth it. The consistency with which this band manages to build and build a song with suspenseful, gyrating beats and stuttering guitar work to way beyond bursting point and then to explode into a crescendo even more magnificent than you were hoping for is rather staggering. In many other reviews I have seen them referred to as a Math Rock band, but in this sense I would have to disagree. The music is much more accessible than the classically irregular and offbeat work of Don Caballero and their contemporaries. It is music that practically forces your body to move, so that you can’t help dancing like some sort of questionably mobilised piece of cutlery (I’m a terrible dancer, what can I say?). As the band has insisted in many interviews, it is then, essentially pop music. And yet the media seems to refuse to believe them – after all, how can music this unique, this original, belong in the same genre as the recycled rubbish that spews out of the industry in such large quantities?
And here is the real success of Foals. They have achieved something that seems more and more like an impossible achievement these days, and created something new. Music that it is as much at home on dance floors and ‘skins parties’ as it is in the bedrooms of excruciatingly ‘alt’ indie kids the world over. And this goes down largely to the level of thought that has gone into these tracks. Each aspect of every song has been crafted to perfection, with alarmingly simple guitar riffs cutting across Walter Gervers warbling bass lines and spiced up with the genius synth work of Edwin Congreave. Special mention though, goes to Jack Bevan whose drum work lights up the album constantly, as he proves that drummers can simultaneously keep the beat while also contributing to the pure style of a song. The ‘angular’ interplay between the guitars of Yannis and Jimmy Smith, that seems to convince many people that ‘it must be math rock’, simply tops off the mixture superbly.
Lyrically, I would optimistically label the album as cryptic. If anyone has seen Yannis give an interview they will have a taste of the sharp intelligence (yes two of them did go to Oxford, how could we forget?) and humour of the band, and this is present throughout all the tracks of the album. Opener, The French Open seems to be both a song about tennis and a subtle pun on its French lyrics and status as the album’s first track, while Two Steps Twice seems at times to be guiding its audience through a series of dance moves. The haunting Big Big Love (Fig.2) is the most obscure lyrically, but also a major highlight. However, as we would expect from a band that has controversially (albeit it jokingly) declared their support for Obama and mocked London’s new Mayor, there are moments where the lyrics are more obviously meaningful. Red Socks Pugie sees Yannis give the almost pained cry of “these wasps nests, these terminals in your head” as well as declaring that “we’ll set it on fire for them”, while the relentless Electric Bloom depicts “just another hospital” and proclaims that “this is not a warning call, your final shot”, while most tellingly on Olympic Airways we have the lament: “If only we could move away, from here ... let’s disappear ‘til tomorrow”. These glimpses of angst coming through seem to suggest Yannis’ discontent with the drab repetitiveness of the modern world, and the desire to escape to something new, seeing the world as “an aviary for today”.
Foals though are a band unafraid to spread their wings, and this glimpse of meaning in the lyrics suggests to me the reason for the album’s title. Rather than being merely a collection of songs, what Foals have given us here is their prescription and Antidotes for the stagnation of society and also the music industry. Songs like Red Socks Pugie and Olympic Airways in a way seem to diagnose the problems, while the more upbeat and optimistic songs like formidably catchy Cassius and Two Steps Twice give us the sort of release from this prescribed pain and suffering that previously only morphine or heroine could give.
So whether you too share Foals’ angst and frustration at the relentless dribble of repetitive music that acts as a fitting soundtrack to postmodern life in the 21st century or if you simply want some beautifully crafted beats to dance to, I can give you no better advice than to go out and buy this album. The only warning I will give you is to reaffirm that listening to it in public will make people think you are a little bit weird in the head, but I assure you, it is very much worth it, as Yannis says in the triumphant crashing explosion of Red Socks Pugie: “oh what the hell, we set it on fire ... our heart swells up, which makes us explode.”
Go light the fire, and watch it explode.