Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Poetry in Motion

POETRY IN MOTION Why one Reds supporter is committing his love for Liverpool FC to verse 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 th

Michael Hofmann - Changes

Changes Birds singing in the rain, in the dawn chorus, on power lines. Birds knocking on the lawn, and poor mistaken worms answering them ... They take no thought for the morrow, not like you in your new job. - It paid for my flowers, now already stricken in years. The stiff cornflowers bleach, their blue rinse grows out. The marigolds develop a stoop and go bald, orange clowns, straw polls, their petals coming out in fistfuls ... Hard to take you in your new professional pride - a salary, place of work, colleagues, corporate spirit - your new femme d'affaires haircut, hard as nails. Say I must be repressive, afraid of castration, loving the quest better than its fulfilment. - What became of you, bright sparrow, featherhead? poem by Michael Hofmann republished with permission of the author first published in The New Yorker from Acrimony (Faber, 1986) I've loved Hofmann's poetry since I first came across an old copy of what I still think hi

Louis MacNeice

‘World is crazier and more of it than we think, incorrigibly plural’. Even if you’re not that well-versed in modern British and Irish poetry, chances are you’ll still know ‘Snow’, or a line or two from the poem will seem naggingly familiar. While still in his twenties, Louis MacNeice wrote it in 1935, and since then, it’s been a favourite with readers, writers and editors, cropping up in every kind of poetry anthology. Weird, then, that MacNeice’s work has often been seen as a footnote to that of his illustrious pal W.H. Auden, when he’s so clearly a hugely original poet in his own right. And when, among more recent generations, the likes of Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Don Paterson and Conor O’Callaghan have all cited him as a major influence in their own writing. It’s not like ‘Snow’ was a one hit wonder, either. Despite some of the less exciting – and often lengthy – stuff he wrote in the early 50s, MacNeice only got better, perfecting his moving, atmospheric an