What happens when you combine the futuristic visions of Ray Kurzweil with ‘Yogiisms?’ Well, for one, you get a small portion of Total Life Forever, the stunning sophomore album from England’s Foals. Two years ago, the Oxford quintet released Antidotes, a spastic, angular record that seemed to ride the last crests of the waves of the insurgency of indie post-punk. I was so enamored with Foals that I found myself recommending it to friends, along with Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut, more often than I was recommending former Foals producer’s main gig, TV on the Radio. Somehow, I knew that Foals couldn’t continue making music in that same vein for very long. What I didn’t realize was just how much better they would get on their very next album.
Total Life Forever is a massive leap forward for Foals. Though there are remnants of their former selves, including finger-tapping jitteriness and funk-inspired rhythm sections, the band has found themselves reborn as a mature, expansive, textured and complex outfit. I become more impressed with Total Life Forever upon every go-round. Some are calling this Foals’ The Bends, and with complete justification, but I’d liken it to another album, namely U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. Both albums consist of songs in equal measure that display the catchiness of a hit single, or explore soundscapes and the depths of where the spaces between the traditional can take them.
Songs such as “2 Trees” and “Spanish Sahara” are the perfect examples of the latter, allowing the five musicians to go beyond the expected. The result is mesmerizing. Foals even turns a famous quote from Yogi Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be,” into a deeper mantra on “Black Gold.” The inspirations on Total Life Forever are various, but one of the biggest is the work of Ray Kurzweil, futurist. This is a man who, at the age of 20, created a program to match up high schoolers with their perfect colleges. He became fascinated with character and speech recognition, building machines that would revolutionize the industry. Further, he built a keyboard, on the advice of friend Stevie Wonder, which would better imitate other instruments. Now, Foals seems more influenced by Kurzweil’s notions of the future, as depicted in his books, but my point is that people can be multi-dimensional, something vividly expressed in the songs on Total Life Forever.
For those who were longing for a repeat of the first album, there’s enough here to satisfy you. “Miami” is a stadium-filling dance-punk standard, like the Gap Band mashed up with Bloc Party, “This Orient” combines the vocal acrobatics of Futureheads with the anthemic qualities of Oasis or Interpol, while the title track is a glossy !!!-like booty-shaking jam. But for my money, the moments where Foals shines are those deep-breath, eyes-closed, mind-freeing journeys that take their time to get where they’re going. The aforementioned “2 Trees” and “Spanish Sahara,” along with “After Glow” and “Alabaster” find frontman Yannis Philippakis singing as opposed to yelping, while the band intricately layer instrument upon instrument, perfectly placing sound upon sound until the whole is a delicate and glorious construction. The album ends with another stunner, “What Remains,” whose bassline introduction might remind some of “Magheetah,” which will in turn make some realize that Philippakis’ voice has somewhat recalled Jim James’ throughout.
Since Total Life Forever has been available digitally and in the band’s native England for over a month, plenty have had an opportunity to listen and judge for themselves. Some out there have been saying that the album lacks the edge or their debut. I couldn’t think of any more shortsighted a comment. While Antidotes may be a danceable post-punk jewel, Total Life Forever is the massive cavernous mine that opens up once one lifts his eye from that singular stone in his hand, revealing the multitude of sparkling gems to be found if one simply takes the time to look and listen. Foals also seem to be taking a cue from another band that wowed with a debut, then crushed with a mind-blowing follow-up, coincidentally also on Sub Pop, and I’ll let all of you figure that one out. After all, that album cover can’t be a coincidence.
Video: “Spanish Sahara”