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Foals – Total Life Forever (Album Review)

After an album named Antidotes, Foals have returned with Total Life Forever. It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that something must be going right, at the very least mentally, for the 5-piece post-Futureheads-whatevers. But for a band who could most accurately be compared, both to and after, a cup of black-as-night coffee, I still find such eau de cologne (French for “happiness”) a bit shocking. Second track “Miami” bounces over Yannis Phillipakis’ telephone connection-quality vocals and winds up landing, despite its name, closer to Stockholm, Sweden than Oxford, England. But even when things sound lorry (British for “hunky-dory), like on opener “Blue Blood,” the lyrics become sobering in their uncertainty, “You’ve got blood on your hands / I know it’s my own /… / Of all the people I hoped it’d be you.” The track that literally shimmers, but its joy is painted on like fool’s gold.

So if anything is clear on Total Life Forever, it’s that nothing is. For those biting their nails waiting for another “Tron” or “Red Sock Pugie,” there’s the door. Instead the climaxes are more cinematic in that they support the whole song rather than propping up otherwise lackluster stanzas. Take breathtaking single “Spanish Sahara.” Any half-Foals fan would recognize from the 7th second that there will be a monumental payoff. However, a new listener may give up before Phillipakis can hook them with his elegiac falsetto. But with time the song burgeons outward with the military precision of drummer Jack Bevan and the rocket-powered sways of guitarist Jimmy Smith. While the song was clearly created for a sole energy-releasing moment, there is ample attention paid to the build-up. It’s a song that shows the band recognizing comments about their “gimmick,” while also busting through critic-created chains with creative songwriting.

What I hope never leaves a Foals record is the tension. Whether it’s on The Tough Alliance-inspired “After Glow,” which works itself into a high-pitched frenzy, or the melding of urban grit and tribal simplicity of scary-if-you’re-alone closer “What Remains,” Phillipakis always creates an anxious environment. And while there are more than a few people who can’t take the man’s British yelps, it adds yet another level of uncertainty. His voice can take many different forms, and it can take said forms in the blink of a sixteenth note. Such ambiguity makes each song an adventure. Case in point, “This Orient” begins with schizo electronic boinging before becoming one of the most post-punk tunes before changing again into a hyper Appleseed Cast-type number.

Each song hides more than enough intricacies, even for the jittery music fans of 2010. It’s the ambiguity of styles, plus the insistence on bringing the listener along for a journey, that makes Total Life Forever such an endlessly interesting statement. Whatever Foals are, and whatever they are to become, will certainly be noteworthy. And I don’t think it’s wrong to say that what it is to come won’t necessarily be the best, but it will be worth inspection.