As marked out by the desolate seven minute soundscape of ‘Spanish Sahara’, Total Life Forever is definitely not merely a follow-up to Foals’ debut Antidotes. From danceable angular rhythms to barely-there falsettos and chiming guitar and slow builds, it is a shifting down of gears to a mode that is far removed from the sound that established them.
Produced by Clor’s Luke Smith, Total Life Forever sees the Oxford five-piece band deliberately opt for a more restrained approach to arrangement filled with atmospherics and a generally slower pace. Yannis Philippakis’ voice has changed. More depth, more range and with less of a wincing yelp present, it is the glue that enables the band to take the music to lusher terroritories. Thankfully, There are still embers of the high-fretted riffs that made Antidotes such a standout but it is supplemented by a willingness to become, to borrow the clichÃ©d phrase ‘more sonically adventurous’.
If you are disappointed that there has been a fundamental change in the Foals sound at first, you’ll grow to love it upon repeated listens. Rather than a sinewy math rock machine, the band have retreated and allowed their emotions to rule them and the result is a warmth and openness that was lacking on their cold-hearted debut. There’s no denying that ‘Black Gold’ shares the same spacious techniques masterfully employed by The XX, for example.
While the opening trio of ‘Blue Blood’, ‘Miami’ and ‘Total Life Forever’ establishes the link between the two albums, it also anchors the emotional heart of the record. Yannis’ lyrics have a preoccupation with a crumbling world (‘It’s future rust and then it’s future dust’). Total Life Forever is a title derived from a book called The Singularity is Near which talks about the merging of humans and machines into immortal beings, a concept which manifests itself in the lyrics – ‘singularity is here to stay’.
It’s side B of the album that really lifts proceedings. ‘This Orient’ which at first sounded like an anomaly has revealed itself as a sweet little pop song which (shock) wouldn’t sound out of place on daytime radio, even with the Four Tet-esque squiggly bits.
‘Afterglow’ displays elements of German techno-meister The Field in spirit and in tone until it erupts into Battles-esque rhythmic rejoicing while ‘2 Trees’ heavily recalls the more spacious, guitar-line textures parts of fellow Oxford luminaries Radiohead with songs like ‘Weird Fishes’.
Foals are no longer the arty math/punk/dance (delete where applicable) rockers. There is real progress here in the instrumentation, the group backing vocals and the ability to loosen the reliance on immediate guitar lines. Total Life Forever is making Antidotes feel like a first album by a band who have made huge leaps since.