Foals – Total Life Forever (2010) (Record Club)
Somewhat schizophrenic, an emotional, involving album that can make you dance or make you weep.
Antidotes, Foals’ acclaimed debut, really put the pressure on. Soaring to #3 in the UK charts and winning the band a multitude of fans and praise, it meant their next release would be heavily scrutinised. With Total Life Forever, Foals certainly delivered.
Relocating to Gothenburg, Sweden, Yannis and his bandmates created an album they would go on to describe as “tropical prog”. Tracks like ‘Miami’ and ‘Black Gold’ continued that progressive, math sound developed on Antidotes, persuading the listener to throw caution to the wind, and dance. Whilst being perhaps one of the slowest song the band has ever written, ‘Miami’ did also convey a sense of the tropical with its repeated hooks infused with warm, smooth layers of guitar and synth. However, Total Life Forever was a far more complicated, emotional album than Foals’ debut. ‘Two Steps, Twice’, ‘Tron’, ‘Red Sox Pugie’ and many others did bring a complexity to Antidotes, in terms of rhythms, voices and polyphony, but Total Life Forever was more subtle in its approach. Opener ‘Blue Blood’ holds true to Foals’ math-punk attitude in its gradual build and tight, picked guitar lines; but Yannis’ voice is immediately more controlled and more conservative, his lyrics more intimate, and the sound more round and textured. The fresh, frenetic funk is still there to be heard, particularly in Walter Gervers’ simultaneously cyclical and jerky bassline, but ‘Blue Blood’ invites us into an album that became “a lot less funk” than was initially planned by the band.
From the drop into syncopated drums and bass to the final, heartfelt yelp, ‘Blue Blood’ is as assured as Yannis’ driving exhalation that superscripts the final chorus. The “come be accepted” refrain is outrageously catchy, demanding a foot tap and a twitching knee, but it also reveals one of the album’s major themes. Sounding confident, this plea for inclusivity and assurance actually readies us for its reoccurrence in a mistrusting, scared LP. Even the sunny ‘Miami’ yearns to be “saved”, for someone to “be there for me”. There is insecurity throughout Total Life Forever, an insecurity that becomes increasingly sincere. The first half of the album, with uplifting tracks such as ‘Total Life Forever’ and ‘Blue Blood’ conceal this trouble in dance-heavy sounds, awash with guitar repetitions and warm vibes – but the album’s schizophrenia seeps out in the fantastically sparse, disjointed second half.
Steeped in Futurology, Total Life Forever communicates the worries and unknowingness which plagues those concerned with potential possibilities, with unpredictable outcomes. Still parroting those dance synths, ‘After Glow’ begins to break and jump, wailing and wallowing in its unresolved state. The instrumental and emotional heft of the album’s second half is so obvious and so honest. ‘Fugue’ truly is a modern fugue, but stripped back, disparate and intermittent. But this moody, aware attitude isn’t without ambition. The furies which attack and torment ‘Spanish Sahara’ revel in its desolate, ravaged landscape – and yet an epic, beautiful, stirring song is produced, never quite overcoming it’s trauma, never trying to hide it away.
‘Spanish Sahara’ was voted Best Track at the 2011 NME Awards and has been used in countless TV shows and adverts since. Inspiring a grand sense of both optimism and ordeal, it truly is a fantastic track. It stands out magnificently as Total Life Forever’s climax, and led the album to much acclaim, including a Mercury Music Award nomination.
The album does lose pace towards its end, with both ‘2 Trees’ and ‘What Remains’ perhaps not reaching the high standards imposed by their predecessors. But on the whole Total Life Forever is a fantastic sophomore effort, developing and continuing the frenetic passion and energy of Antidotes, reapplying its punk chops and math hooks with a more melodic sense of repetition. It deserves praise for its marriage of confident, futuristic funk and guitar-dance edge with a more intense, despairing plea for acceptance and salvation.
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