When Foals burst onto the scene a couple of years ago, nu-rave was in full swing, and all the indie kids (including me) loved their intense, dancey vibe. Their first album went down a treat, but in interviews Yannis and co. gave the impression that they wanted to experiment more, slightly uncomfortable with their hype. Total Life Forever is a definite response to this, where the band has expanded their sound into an eclectic range of styles.
Black Gold is the best example of their new direction: it starts with a Police-esque groove, diving into a blissed out chorus, before dropping the funk and building up to a gigantic sonic release. Many of the songs, including album teaser Spanish Sahara, utilise this build and release structure; in fact many songs have (at least) minute long intros. This marks a big difference to Antidotes where it was all build; the lack of any considerable release made the album tremendously claustrophobic.
The lyrics, too, are a much larger part of the music than on Antidotes, where the vocals where little more than squawks. Yannis has taken on a spectrum of different ideas, but overall the lyrics strike the listener as elemental: the deep blue of the cover is an indicator of the raw imagery and vivid colours that dominate the music. Furthermore, Yannis' new singing voice carries some quite heavy topics; global warming, orientalism, post-colonialism, just to name a few. Often his cryptic lyrics are strangely affecting, but sometimes it feels as though Yannis is out of his depth.
Luckily, the album is not entirely devoted to the "epic" songs, and where the band seem to be having the most fun, on Miami and the eponymous Total Life Forever, is where the listener has the most fun also. The twitchy guitars are constrained into funky riffs and are going to be as big indie club tunes as any of their previous work. In fact, Total Life Forever only suffers in the bridge, the awkward chant of "the singularity is here to stay" interrupting what otherwise is a class-A tune.
Overall this new direction sees to differentiate the band from the landfill indie bands who they were just on the fringes of. The album, as a whole, seems very similar to what Bloc Party did after Silent Alarm, they too dropped their main sound and tackled some heavier issues. Bloc Party, however, couldn't rise up to their new Radiohead aspirations, but Foals have created an album, for the myriad styles, that works as a cohesive and thematic whole, but without losing the dancey fun that generated all that hype in the first place. One word of caution to the listener: The songs are layered and complex so the album demands several listens through before it makes sense.