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Review: Antidotes by Foals

I meant to review British math-rockers Foals’ first album a few months back, but what with one thing and another, haven’t had chance to get round to it. Having seen them live when I spent three excellent and largely rain-free days reviewing Latitude Festival this summer, however, I wanted to say at least something about them. And that’s pretty much that, with only a couple of months left before 2008 draws to a close, the 11 tracks on Antidotes will almost certainly make up the best debut British music release of the year.

I first came across Foals with the initially inauspicious release of their debut single, ‘Hummer’, which went on to gather a bit of attention when it was later used to promote the second series of Channel 4’s Skins. Since then they’ve played numerous festivals this summer, the pulsating bass and spiky guitars of tunes like ‘Cassius’ have become unlikely club dancefloor hits, and the band have had a fight with tame anarchist and Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten at a gig in Spain. A hectic year, then, with bookings for major festivals across Europe being testament to the strength of Antidotes as an album.

First things first, though – it isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste. As lead singer Yannis Phillippakis self-deprecatingly quipped on Buzzcocks earlier this year, ‘we’ve made a record that’s just solid drones for 40 minutes and no songs. It’s funny – all these people have tipped us and it’s absolutely unlistenable.’ But then unlistenable to one person – as my word processing spellchecker happens to offer as a supposed correction – is unmistakable to another, and if Foals have a future an album or two down the line, it’ll be through unique inventiveness and an aesthetic that places as much importance on catchy hooks and danceability as experimentation and artistic integrity.

First track ‘The French Open’ sets out Foals’ stall quickly enough: a brass drone that builds to sparse drums and layered, trebly guitars that are punctuated by Phillippakis’ unusual vocals – sounding as if, on certain tracks, he’s shouting them across to a mic on the other side of a concert hall. Single ‘Balloons’ is a similarly energetic, raucously orchestrated number, ending abruptly in a swarm of electronic bleeping, while ‘Two Steps Twice’ sounds like a Bloc Party and Battles collaborative. Where Foals really come into their own, however, is in the dense, thought-provoking and often eerily suggestive soundscapes of songs like ‘Heavy Water’, its almost flamenco-style guitar rising to carefully arranged horns and soaring synths, and easily the album’s highlight, ‘Electric Bloom’, a brooding and darkly contemporary arrangement that glitters with cryptic lyrics and its pulsing, addictive bass line.

If there is a criticism of Antidotes as a debut album, it's the repetitious core that lies at the heart of many of its songs: the trebly, spidery guitars do eventually tire, and the fug of depression that dominates the album’s tone, while unusual and admirably imaginative in execution, is already too much well before the wailing close of last track ‘Tron’. But on the whole, Antidotes certainly delivers a refreshing and intelligent alternative to the facile indie-pop of recent bands like The Kooks and the Hoosiers, and for that, Foals deserve the recognition and relative hype that has recently surrounded them. If they can expand their emotional range and already impressive sound, they’ll be onto a real winner.


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Liverpool FC and poetry have a lot of previous – from John Toshack’s Gosh It’s Tosh collection in the late 70s, to the verse of Dave Kirby and Peter Etherington in the fanzine Red All Over the Land, to the lines written by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a University of Liverpool graduate, in the aftermath of 2012’s Hillsborough findings. Now there’s Ben Wilkinson, Reds fan and book critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement, who’s compiling a series of poems commemorating the club’s legends. “Football is part of the fabric of life, and anything that’s important to people finds its way into poetry,” he says. “Wilfred Owen’s poem 'Disabled' describes a soldier who loses the use of his legs, meaning he can never play football again. Philip Larkin’s 'MCMXIV' compares boys queuing to join the army to fans outside Villa Park. These poems have stood the test of time because t…

About the Author

Welcome to the website of the English poet and critic, Ben Wilkinson.
Ben was born in Staffordshire and now lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. He received his first degree from the University of Sheffield, and holds an MA and PhD from Sheffield Hallam University. He has won numerous awards for his poetry, including the Poetry Business Competition and a 2014 Northern Writers' Award
His debut full collection of poems, Way More Than Luck, appeared from Seren Books in February 2018.
He is a keen distance runner, lifelong Liverpool Football Club fan, and among other things he works as poetry critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. You can find many of his reviews on this site.
To contact Ben about readings, workshops, or for any other enquiries, you can drop him a line at benwilko(at sign) Unfortunately, I am not able to consider unsolicited requests from authors for book reviews.

You can follow Ben on Twitter - @BenWilko85 - and on Facebook.

You can find B…

Way More Than Luck (Seren Books, 2018)

From the thumping heartbeat of the distance runner to the roar of football terraces across the decades, Ben Wilkinson’s debut confronts the struggles and passions that come to shape a life. Beginning with an interrogation of experiences of clinical depression and the redemptive power of art and running, the collection centres on a series of vivid character portraits, giving life to some of football's legends. By turns frank, comic, sinister and meditative – ‘the trouble with you, son, is that all your brains are in your head’ – these poems uncover the beautiful game’s magic and absurdity, hopes and disappointments, as striking metaphors for our everyday dramas. Elsewhere there are tender love poems, political satire and strange dream worlds, in an urgently lyrical book of poems that take many forms and modes of address: pantoum, sonnet, sestina; epistle, confession, dramatic monologue. All are united by a desire to speak with searching clarity about matters of the heart. Way More …