For a lot of people in the music writing biz, the aughts will go down as the era of marketable post-punk. Two decades after Ian Curtis & company invented the genre, a legion of disciples (Interpol, The Libertines and Bloc Party) took their borrowed sounds to the top of the international charts and festival billings alike. But now in 2010 all is not well for these post-punk upstarts commercial interest is waning, bands are breaking up, and former critical darlings are entering their fourth or fifth record release. For the first time these formerly fresh-faced revivalists are veterans of the scene, in their thirties, their best work behind them – hell, the big crossover hits of the last two years (Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Animal Collective) are quite different than Arctic Monkeys and The Cribs before them.
Foals entered the fold at the scene’s cretaceous period; early 2008, with a curious, if a little yawn-inducing brand of disco-informed emo-rock. They’ve done a good job of eluding the gelatinous blob of mediocrity that swallowed up most late-period revival acts, and made the prospect of a sophomore effort a much more exciting proposition than, say, the fourth Kaiser Chiefs album. In fact, Total Life Forever is one of the best albums we’ve seen from the British post-punk camp in the past five years, and hints that the 2000-sound may not be all the way dead yet.
What makes Total Life Forever more affecting than most everything else in the genre lately is that it disowns the morose, throaty (and oft-disingenuous) emotion that most ‘serious’ chart-rock bands go for, and instead builds songs out of a certain watery nuance. That means no shout-along choruses, no easily-discerned lyrics, and no familiar melodies. This is Foals down the rabbit hole, rock flecked with IDM, maybe even a little bit of Caribou. The centerpiece “This Orient” is one of the smartest thing radio-listeners will be hearing in quite a while, leaning on sliced-up vocals and brain-bendingly layered guitar lines – it earnestly sounds like if The Books tried to write a rock song. It’s not something the general music populace is used to hearing; Total Life Forever packs every inch it’s given with knuckleballs.
That’s not to say that it won’t find listenership. Total Life Forever is still intrinsically rooted in the band’s pop sensibilities, and it’s not necessarily going to sound out of place next to their label-mates, but on a musical level, it’s clear that Foals are more interested in creating art than churning out hits. One listen to the uber-complex leveling job on “After Glow” confirms that these songs were incubated in a studio for quite some time. And even with all that evolution, Total Life Forever is still thoroughly identifiable as a Foals album, their personality and songwriting quirks shine through even the thickest of creative haze – they’re making pop out of art, which is a pretty good recipe for a young band.