Album Review: Foals' Total Life Forever Is a Puzzling Mix of Afrobeat, Talking Heads, Britpop, and Robin Pecknold

Artist: Foals

Album: Total Life Forever

Label: Sub Pop

Release date: June 15

Rating (Skip, Stream, or Buy): Stream

Download Watch: "Spanish Sahara"

"Spanish Sahara," the first single off Foals' second record, Total Life Forever, has been much ballyhooed since it hit the web a few months ago - and with good reason. It's a magnificent song. The melting keyboard melody and soft vocals eventually build to thudding synthesizers, a simple but compelling guitar solo, and frontman Yanni Philippakis singing, "I'm the fury in your head...I'm the ghost in the back of your head." It's dramatic but sounds completely natural.

But the rest of Total Life Forever goes fifty-fifty in fulfilling the early promise of "Spanish Sahara." "Alabaster" is smooth and pretty; "Miami," relying on the same world music influences found on Foals' first record, 2008's Antidotes, is a funky jam with neatly syncopated percussion and soaring background vocals. On "Blue Blood," Philappkis' voice sounds strong and impressive, until the Afrobeat drum rhythms kick in and you realize he sounds weirdly and exactly like Robin Pecknold singing Caribbean music. Foals' music has interesting and intricate layers of sound, and I want to believe that they're an innovative band, but too much of the songs here sound too derivative of stuff I've heard before. "This Orient" could be a track off Bloc Party's Silent Alarm; the title track sounds like a Talking Heads song with terrible lyrics ("I know a place where I can go when I'm low/ Down to your house/ I will go, when I'm low"). On this record, Foals does Britpop, they do world, they do emotional indie, they do funk - they seem to be searching for their defining sound, and they haven't landed on anything solid just yet.

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