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British math rock band Foals dance you through the deep blue ocean. [INTERVIEW]

2010 November 4

My first Foals experience: 3 years ago, sitting in a hip PR office in San Francisco. Typing out some pitch to a reporter, I had my headphones on, listening to Pig Radio. An upbeat song ends and is followed by a loop of drum sticks tapping a beat that sounds like a car starting. Next layer kicks in: A guitar loops through some notes that sound like the sun breaking the horizon in the morning. Then the next layer of dreamy chords drops like cold water pouring over my head, and I froze mid-keystroke. Progressively more layers appear: a drum machine kick, bass and synths, all tightly woven together. I felt like a little kid sitting in my parents’ old car, legs swinging, half-asleep early in the morning before school. The windows are iced over and the car is idling to warm up. The day is open with possibility.

And then the vocals kick in. “See how the skulls we build fill all the towers we build. Crash down fury red. Cracks in our hearts and heads.” Repeats passionately for 3 verses then “small steps kiss got stolen” (or something) over and over again. Music becomes stripped down to just the drumsticks then”OH, electric shocks, no!” Music kicks in full effect. Every instrument and the voice are playing exactly aligned with each other. A sound like a skateboard grinding cuts across the track and the song ends a little over 6 minutes long with “OH, electric shocks, no!”

The song was Big Big Love (fig. 2). When it was over, I was sitting at my desk in completely shock. The song had stirred up all the angst and love and muck at the bottom of my soul that had been wallowing inside throughout my divorce. I took off my headphones, went into the bathroom and just howled. Welcome to the poetic beauty that is Foals.

  • LISTEN: Foals - Big Big Love (fig. 2) off the album Antidotes

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Straight out of Oxford, England, Foals is one of those magical bands trying to push the aural heart of human expression to new ground. With tight, complex rhythms combined with layers of sounds and shamanistic lyrics, these guys activate something primal inside of me. It’s like an expressionistic painting with broad, emotional strokes-but controlled and organized.

Oh yeah, they’ve also got some pretty amazing videos:

Foals - Balloons

Their newest album, Total Life Forever, takes the sound they created on the first album and buries it a little deeper into the soul. The production and mixing is more refined. The layers don’t blare out of the speakers at you; instead, they invite you to explore each. To me, the tracks on Total Life Forever remind me of the color blue-it’s as if you are swimming or near the ocean at all times: sometimes it sounds completely submerged. Sometimes it’s like walking along the beach, the waves of sounds dancing across your feet.

In terms of style, the new album also has a stronger funk background, at times reminding me of No Wave bands like Bush Tetras or Liquid Liquid. But true to form, everything is tightly controlled. There’s also something a little more soulful on this album.

  • LISTEN: Foals - Blue Blood off of the album Total Life Forever

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After their set at ACL Fest 2010, we met up with Jimmy and Walter from Foals. A lively conversation, we talked a little about the thematic nature of the new album, the differences in their approach to writing on both the albums, and their quest to have the perfect live concert set.

Interview with Jimmy and Walter from Foals at ACL Fest 2010

Excerpts from the interview:

Regarding the new album “Total Life Forever” feeling blue:

Wally: Our biggest inspiration for the album is a color called International Klein Blue…The themes that came out, we were thinking about things that were oceanic and that kind of feeds through the songs. I think the record has a lot more soul than the first one. It’s definitely a progression. We had these things that weren’t necessarily things that you talk about and analyze, they’re just there in the making of it and then suddenly they become a part of it. And that was the color and the idea of the depth of sound.

Regarding the differences in writing the two albums:

Jimmy: The big difference between the writing on the first album and this one: Basically in the first album we were all  in a room together and we couldn’t get away from each other. We’d just hammer out these songs. This time we had a basement in our house so Yanik could go down there and be on his own and try out his voice without feeeling pressured or trying to shout over instruments. And the same applies for all of us. We could all go down and actually practice our instruments. Yanni would have a vocal line and I’d could go down and write a line with him without feeling rushed. Everyone could apply their trade without any pressure.

It was nice being in the basement because it was in a residential house and we had to play  quite quietly for the first time ever. We got over the teenage desire to play really fucking loud the whole time.

If you missed Foals at ACL Fest 2010, don’t worry. The band is planning a tour  with a stop in Austin early next year.


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