“What were your fears when approaching this record?” came the question to Foals’ spokesman Yannis Philippakis recently.

His reply: “That we were going to make a really awful record. Too prog, too stoned-out.”

He’s right. It so easily could have been. Towards the end of the ‘Antidotes’ cycle they were a band exhausted, on their last legs, abandoning their biggest hits and pleading with their label (Transgressive, until Warner’s stopped funding the indie and kept their prize possession) to release them from the touring treadmill.

Their thickening facial hair, shortening tempers and obsession with antiquated effects units all pointed towards ‘Total Life Forever’ potentially being their middle-finger, knee-jerk response – something which deliberately sounded like the minimal techno, drug-fed Kraut rock they adored so much. Breathe easy though. Whether it was the suitcases of Moroccan weed or a healthy dose of home life, they’re still the experimental pop band they were on first discovery, albeit one reformed, knocked down and re-built.

Of course, predecessor ‘Antidotes’ wasn’t a poor record. But as was well documented, after months spent in the pungent skunk smog of Dave Sitek’s Brooklyn studio, it wasn’t quite what they had in mind. Awarded the space they craved, the fivesome returned to base (Oxford) and quickly set up shop in a squat christened ‘The House Of Supreme Mathematics’ (it wouldn’t be Foals without some pretence, would it?). They then wrote until they took the rough components to Gothenburg, Sweden in Autumn 2009 to record with Luke Smith (previously of Clor). There the transformation took place.

Gone are Jimmy Smith’s staccato riffs, the throbbing bass and the acute self-awareness. What’s left is a multi-storey pop album with oceans of depth. It opens with an immediate jewel ‘Blue Blood’ – a captivating and explosive anthem. Following that, funk starlet and forthcoming single ‘Miami’; a track underpinned by Walter Gervers’ road-bumping bass pumping along like Sly & The Family Stone and Prince.

By now you’ll have heard the devastatingly fragile ‘Spanish Sahara’ and Bloc Party-esque single ‘This Orient’ – both nestle perfectly in context. ‘Black Gold’ envelops out like an origami dove, slow-burner ‘After Glow’ erupts like Mars Volta playing the crust of Mt Fuji and ‘2 Trees’ pays homage to their defunct pals Youth Movies or, dare we say it, Radiohead.

Musically they’re more robust, more refined. But it’s lyrically where the most significant change comes. Philippakis says he’s wearing “less masks” this time around. True, the cryptic self-defence of last time – which now looks like self-protection – has gone.

“I’ve got Blue Blood on my hands/I know it’s my own” sings a wounded Philippakis with an almost Bon Iver-esque fragility on highlight ‘Blue Blood’ – a sprawling examination of his diverse roots (his father is Greek, mother South African). Elsewhere ‘Total Life Forever’ is preoccupied by the inevitable march of technology and humanity’s integration with the digital age. Like we said, it’s a deep album.

If all this sounds like a completely different band to the one that spring-boarded with ‘Mathletics’ in 2006 – it is. Foals have proved themselves amorphous. And most excitingly? Their evolution has hardly begun.

By Omarrr

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