15 June 2010

Foals: "Total Life Forever"

Oxford’s Foals have finally revealed the fruits of their labor to America; “Total Life Forever” (10 May 2010 in the UK, 15 June 2010 in the USA), their sophomore album, sports out a sound somewhere between a dark disco-esque indie and The Cure at their most playful pop ditties. Combining darker beats and moods with wallowing lyrics and vocal arrangements, their new found maturity is one of exactness in musical execution and immensely broodier than their nascent efforts. Just take a listen to the titular track, with its catchy seventy-esque guitar rift, near staccato keys reminiscent of the post-punk bands that experiment with new wave, and irksome lyrics: “I know a place where I can go when I’m low down – to your house, down to your house, I will go when I’m low.” And it is that sort of intricate interweaving of sounds and ideas that is the genius of “Total Life Forever.”

Opening with the broody “Blue Blood,” with its soft opening and slow building beat, you are smacked almost immediately with the lyrical intensity of the album: “You’ve got blood on your hands, I know it’s my own; you came at me in the middle of the night to show me my soul.” And soon after these words, you are tantalized with a disco beat, bass line, and guitar arrangement. Yet, for the upswing of the tempo, the song continues to be broody. But that is what made many Cure songs infectious (from “Let’s Go to Bed” to “The End of the World”): the ability to avoid gloominess while being broody and pop. Followed by the dark but playful “Miami” and the titular track, the fourth song is “Black Gold” and the first track that will make you stop in your tracks with its subtle (but overwhelming) beauty. This is a blender-puree of multiple 80s dark pop references, but still infused with the bands own playful take on 70s rhythms. What makes the song work is again the dichotomy between playfulness and broodiness (“‘Cause the future is not what you see, it’s not where you’ve been to at all… the future is not what it used to be, used to be…”).

Other great tracks on the album definitely include “This Orient” and the penultimate “2 Trees.” “The Orient” starts with a play on vocal sounds that is quickly supplanted by a thumping constant beat, the catchiest guitar playing on the album, and a soundscape that makes you feel as if you are floating freely – atmosphere wise, this is the most visceral song on the album and the standout. “2 Trees,” sung in a very controlled falsetto that is not piercing, may sound like the mantra of a blood bank (“Help yourself, help the rest, give blood away, give blood today…”), but in reality it takes you back to the beginning, back to “Blue Blood” – the coming around to a full circle. The song continues, “Be still, play dead, forget all the rest. Free yourself, free your head; don’t shy away, open your veins and wait til the rain goes.” Perhaps gory, but the double entrendre understood: live life, share life, do not shy away, the hard times will pass. Set to the most pensive music on the album, with a guitar arrangement that accents the emotional urgency of the lyrics, the contrast this song provides from the rest of the album is hard to ignore. Where as all the other songs have a grounded feel, there are moments of wispiness and, dare I say, dream pop in this one.

Foals could have easily taken another road with this album; they could have favored a more radio-ready, bubbly kind of indie rock/pop, but instead flew out to Sweden and recorded an album that may be ambivalent when first listened to, but quickly becomes infectious. Constantly contrasting musical moods with lyrical contents, “Total Life Forever” is the product of precise song writing and arrangement. This is an album that you should definitely check out while lounge back on your couch during dusk.

Track Listing:
1. Blue Blood
2. Miami
3. Total Life Forever
4. Black Gold
5. Spanish Sahara
6. This Orient
7. Fugue
8. After Glow
9. Alabaster
10. 2 Trees
11. What Remains

Keep up with Foals at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here are their videos for “The Orient” and “Miami” from their YouTube Channel: wearefoals.

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