The ReDownload: Foals “Total Life Forever”

Wherein I find out if I as wrong about an album.

Foals made a spectacular debut with 2008’s Antidotes. It was a taut, fast-paced, and fuzzed-out bit of pin-wheeling awesomeness.  Considered one of the best releases of the year, it set the band up for the make-it-or-break it sophomore release.  In 2010 we got Total Life Forever. The indie industry’s Sabermetrics, Pitchfork, gave the record a good, not great 7.6 (how exactly do you turn music into a set of statistics?).  The record was short-listed for the Mercury Prize.  Foals lost out to the xx and rightly so.  Total Life Forever made KEXP’s Listener Top 100 of 2010 at eighteen.  That’s a fairly broad consensus that Foals hit the mark with a quality album.

I listened to it twice and promptly made space for something else on my Zune.  I moved on.  After hearing an impassioned defense of the album I re-downloaded it and found out that I was mostly wrong.  This has led me to wonder why I panned it at the time.

Maybe these are a couple of reasons:

1. Printed on the sleeve Gil Scott-Heron’s fantastic 2010 effort, I’m New Here is this note:

“There is a proper procedure for taking advantage of any investment.  Music, for example.  Buying music is an investment.  To get the maximum you must LISTEN TO IT FOR THE FIRST TIME UNDER OPTIMUM CONDITIONS. Not in the car or on a portable player through a headset. Take it home.  Get rid of all distractions, (even him or her). Turn off your cell phone. Turn off everything that rings or beeps or rattles or whistles.  Make yourself comfortable.  Play your LP.  LISTEN all the way through.  Think about what you got.  Think about who would appreciate this investment.  Decide if there is someone to share this with.  Turn it on again.  Enjoy Yourself.”

Here’s what I did with Total Life Forever: I downloaded the album and promptly listened to something else that I was feeling at the moment.  When I got around to listening to the album, I was on the move.  I listened it as I was walking downtown to pick up my car.  After a 20-minute walk I plugged my player into my car stereo and did some errands.  I didn’t really hear the album – I was busy driving, making lists, watching the scenes around me as I walked.

2. Antidotes was really good.  It’s hard to get bored with it, even after two years.  I think I fell into the “I liked their work, why did they have to change?” rut.  Total Life Forever is a complete reach and totally different sound than Antidotes. I was in the mood for more tight and pin-bally rock.  Total Life Forever is big and challenging.

So, mostly wrong.  From Blue Blood to This Orient Foals build a big, ambitious sound.  Miami is a moody, energetic, and slightly menacing three and half minutes.  The title song sticks around long after the album has moved on.  It’s a perfect title song and intriguing radio single.  The chorus almost requires you to sing along.  Not at the top of your lungs of course, It’s not a Katy Perry single.

There is more space between the tracks on Total Life Forever.  There wasn’t a chance to catch your breath on Antidotes. Songs ran into each other and it worked.  You were commanded to move if only because there was no other option, the music didn’t stop.  Total Life Forever asks you to think about the music that your are ostensibly feeling.  It’s a strange and compelling feeling.  It’s not easy for anyone to pull that off.

The spaces between tracks become a little too wide for the second half of the record.  The energy levels off.  That’s not to say the last five aren’t compelling.  It’s just that it feels like another record.  Or maybe the bigger sound the Foals were going for just began expanding uncontrollably, leaving too many concepts unfinished.  Afterglow feels like it should have been included on the first half.  What Remains is an apt closing title.  The track seems to have been put together with whatever mood and hooks that were left.

Total Life Forever is an ambitious and mature sophomore album.  It has a great first half that levels off a bit during the final act.  Mercury Prize good?  I’m not British so I don’t know, but obviously plenty of people said yes.  Regardless it’s collection of songs that will remain in many players for sometime.  More importantly, it makes you want to find out where they are going to go next.  Many bands blow it on the second album and become middling local or touring acts that top out at 1000 seat venues.  Foals got it right here and we should be excited to hear more from them.

Listen and watch here.

Pic Via NME

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