I have to be honest here, but when Foals released their second LP Total Life Forever earlier this year, I was disappointed. In hindsight, it was almost certainly because I listened to it the night before an exam; but things seemed to be missing. Where were Yannis Philippakis’ attention-grabbing, yelping vocals? Where were the insanely infectious hooks that littered songs like Cassius and The French Open? Most importantly, why weren’t Foals being Foals? It was cause for alarm. The critics had almost unanimously described it as “measured and matured”, but at the time that assessment seemed synonymous with “mundane and insufferably boring”.
November 8, 2010
Having revisited that album before reviewing the new single, Blue Blood, I’m extremely happy to say that I was totally wrong. Hooray! In that perpetual pre-exam stupor I ignored all the subtleties that make this album (and Blue Blood, in particular) great, probably because I didn’t really expect that Foals had the word subtle in their vocabulary. Antidotes, their début, was quite content to cut open your cerebral cortex with its scalpel sharp precision guitars and insert itself into your memory on the first listen. Everything was immediate. Total Life Forever is a completely different beast, one that works its way into your skull over time, proving itself to be more and more intricate on repeat listens. It is anything but immediate.
Blue Blood encapsulates all of these qualities perfectly. It pulses into life with a delicate, chiming guitar that is the beating heart of the first half of the song; Yannis’ gentle, ethereal vocals (seriously, gentle. Honestly, I’m not kidding) flow incredibly naturally around the guitar’s subdued rhythms. The gentle drums and bass serve to add to the tension, although it’s a different kind of tension from the one that surged through the veins of Antidotes. Gone is the constant, jittery nervousness – the feeling that every song had far too much Red Bull – that was previously their hallmark. It’s been replaced with a kind of anticipation instead; the nervousness is still there but it’s of the optimistic, heart-fluttering sort, as opposed to the heart-palpitations/heart-attack of Antidotes.
The listeners patience is duly rewarded as the beautiful intro spirals upwards into something that is more recognisably Foals. The guitars burst out of their pulses into understated dance-punk flourishes. Yannis’ vocal retains its delicate falsetto, but re-captures some of its previous urgency. The rhythm section does an amazing job of propelling the song onwards in a heady mix of intricate drumming and fuzz-soaked bass. They’ve managed to do a fantastic job of retaining the best parts of their début and synthesising it with their new-found love for all things delicate, and it sounds absolutely wonderful. Somehow, paradoxically, they’ve managed to round their corners without losing any of their edge.
Blue Blood continues to build. And build. And build quite a bit more. It’s an absolute master-class in tension as seemingly endless layers of beautifully subtle guitars chime in and out, complementing the increasingly intense vocals perfectly. Yet despite everything that’s going on (I’d recommend listening to it at least a couple of times just so you can get a sense of how impressive it is) it’s never overbearing. This is the maturity that people talked about back on Total Life Forever’s release. It continues to build until it has reached into its climactic, euphoric zenith – a delightful cacophony of swirling noise – and then falls gracefully back to how it started, all chiming guitars and breathy vocals. It manages to surround the listener in more ideas than most albums can come up with, and after a few listens it’ll be as much as an ohrwum as anything from Antidotes. It strikes of a band that’s grown up, matured (and definitely not become boring), and is almost certainly one of the best things Foals have ever done.