Review Summary: Total Life Forever is like a stalker, cold and isolated on the surface but teeming with relentless adrenaline underneath the mask.5 of 5 thought this review was well written“Rest assured that we are working towards a common end... The end of ends, middles, and all stories. The end of us and the end of you.”
To hope that Yannis Philippakis’ quotation is not about his music would be an understatement, for the last thing the music world needs right now is a Foals break-up. After bursting onto the indie rock scene playing a variation of music akin to math-rock the feisty Greek’s band Foals released Antidotes
, a refreshingly upbeat and technical debut that did more than enough to both show off the bands outstanding potential and propel them into the spotlight. As it happens, the above quote thankfully has no musical context whatsoever, instead being no more than an overly philosophical blog post, and, to the benefit of music lovers everywhere, Foals second album Total Life Forever
quashes any fears of a premature split. For how could a band so telepathically in tune possibly call it quits?
First things first, Total Life Forever
is not Antidotes II
. In fact during the two long years since their debut, Foals have transformed into a completely new band and their new-found maturity plays a big part in the sound they now possess. Gone are the angular guitar riffs, the crystal clear production and the overt joie de vivre attitude, replaced with a diverse mix of carefully structured musical austerity punctuated by quirky uplifting disco-pop numbers. It’s clearly an eclectic mix and under different circumstances this re-imagination could fail spectacularly, however in the capable hands of Foals we are instead given a concentrated, nervous tour de force that might just be the album of the year. Total Life Forever
is Foals O.K. Computer
, a cold, calculated magnum opus that’s as serious as it is brilliant.
Yet while the album is both emotionally charged and instrumentally proficient throughout, there are still a handful of would-be singles ready to mesmerize the alternative masses. Miami
is catchy-as-fuck disco-pop heaven that Brandon Flowers would give up limbs to have written, whereas first single This Orient
delves head first into sub-indie counter culture full of tantalising post-punk riffs complete with the albums only truly sing-along chorus. Elsewhere, 2 Trees’
Battles-esque rhythmical boldness and pretty melodies keep the album interesting to the very end and the likes of Alabaster
and After Glow
add depth to the album’s sizeable arsenal. After Glow
itself is a triumph of emotional stimulation, with the eerie balance between the schizophrenic climax and the detached vocal delivery accentuating the album’s dark side.
Despite the consistent quality throughout Total Life Forever
it is the sobriety that stands out the most, a characteristic best shown in the two longest tracks. Contrasting each other nicely, they have as many similarities as differences and, together, combine to form the albums double-barrelled centrepiece, an unashamedly fantastic twelve minutes of music overflowing with funky rhythmic intersections, gentle instrumental build ups and audacious climaxes. Black Gold
, the first of the two, is an astutely euphoric post-punk number masquerading as a something much bigger. The grandiosity eventually shows itself through a grand climactic finale that boasts a multi-layered structure greater than that on whole of Antidotes
. Following the anthemic Black Gold
is the awe-inspiring Spanish Sahara
. Undoubtedly the jewel in Total Life Forever’s
crown, Spanish Sahara
is Foals at their most scintillating, a post-apocalyptic slow-burner that is simultaneously both gorgeously delicate and breathtakingly majestic. The subtle ambience helps create a haunting vulnerability that compliments Philippakis’ angst-ridden vocals gloriously. The tension in the precise build-up keeps the momentum going before the climax; a single moment of absolute clarity as despairingly beautiful as anything on a Sigur Rós album and as big as anything from the stadium-rock heyday.
There seems to be a charming swagger to the way Foals arrange their music and it’s not just Sigur Rós that can be heard here. The influences permeating Total Life Forever
are both numerous and varied. From the Afrobeat inspiration in opener Blue Blood
to echo’s of The Cure in both Miami
and the title track, Foals show they know how to keep their sound interesting. It seems that from this the band have learnt many lessons in the art of song writing. Clearly the most important aspect of this is the undeniably mature structuring that led to the longer cuts. These songs are the tracks by which the album lives and dies and the fact each track over five minutes in length is an album highlight is all the evidence needed that Foals have created a truly complete album. This said, there are a few minor hiccups on Total Life Forever
, the most obvious being the disappointingly lacklustre title track. Whether or not the song suffers from its placement, sandwiched between the instantly catchy Miami
and the intricately designedBlack Gold
, is up for debate, but what remains clear is that compared to the surrounding tracks Total Life Forever
seems bland and aimless.
Quite where Foals will go from here is anyone’s guess. Whether they plan to continue down this path, remaining “the ghost[s] in the back of your head” (Spanish Sahara), or forge a new one completely is yet to be seen, and while “the future’s not what it used to be” (Black Gold) the past is even less familiar. It’s hard to imagine the band regressing once more to their Antidotes
days and the evidence for them to stay put where they are is hefty; there is no doubt they have improved both as a unit and individually. Die hard fan’s of Antidotes
math-rock eclecticism may be of the opinion that the band have betrayed their roots and taken a step backwards in terms of both accessibility and musical integrity, and while it is easy to understand their misgivings it is hard to agree completely. In terms of accessibility alone then perhaps their case stands, although potential singles are scattered throughout Total Life Forever
the heightened complexity of the longer tracks may put off the less patient listener. However in a purely musical context the band have matured immeasurably and the wider array of influences they can now cite has added both depth and integrity to the act, and judged by that criteria then Total Life Forever
is a stunning success.
Overall 5.0 Classic