Oxford’s Foals arrived at the tail end of the dance-rock soirée with 2008’s Antidotes, a simply okay record that nevertheless garnered lots of attention, even amid the cumulative exhaustion with punk-funk rhythms and nimble, math-rock-derived guitar lines. Much of that was due to a well-publicized row between its producer, Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio), and frontman Yannis Philippakis, with his penchant for grandiose statements about “futurology” and the like—evidence of an outsized ambition that the band’s far better follow-up, Total Life Forever, only now justifies. Where Antidotes was mostly bratty clamor, TLF brims with thoughtfulness and sure-footed patience, slowing Foals’ usual polyrhythmic ping-ponging to find the actual songs within.
Helpfully, Philippakis has refined his aimless yelp into a wounded, Robert Smith-like croon, one better suited to melancholy creepers like the opener, “Blue Blood,” and the stilled, pulsating centerpiece “Spanish Sahara.” It also provides a comforting through-line as the album skips through the post-punk meets G-funk of “Miami,” the cut-and-paste hocketing of “This Orient,” and the ethereal, carefully constructed builds of “2 Trees” and “What Remains”—songs that break Foals’ fixed-gear approach by fusing their usual urgency and precision (with Afrobeat breakdowns applied surgically, rather than bluntly) to soaring, stadium-ready choruses. TLF is a bid to be less in your face than in your head, and while its effect is less immediate, it’s a comedown that’s way more fun than the party.