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Foals - Antidotes

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Artist: Foals

Album: Antidotes

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Apr. 14, 2008

Oxford's Foals have toured with and often been compared to Bloc Party, and I'd wanted to dismiss them as a slightly weirder Bloc Party or Futureheads until I saw this live video, in which the band plays dead serious post-punk while singer Yannis Phillipakis bangs a floor tom and jerks around like a young David Byrne.

The trouble with Antidotes, though, is the same as one of the big problems with Bloc Party's Silent Alarm: it's so relentlessly clean-sounding. More than anything else, Antidotes is about the considerable amount of time it must have taken to make it; its eccentricities have mostly been scrubbed away.

The album was originally mixed by TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, but Foals tossed out Sitek's work and remixed the songs themselves after he added too much reverb for their tastes. It would be interesting to hear what Sitek did, because the final version of Antidotes sounds far too clinical. It's hard not to admire the jerky, clean-toned guitar scribbles on "Cassius," but most of the rest of the song sounds like a Franz Ferdinand b-side. "Electric Bloom," the song on the video clip linked above, is completely de-fanged on the album, as it features a sluggish tempo and thin-sounding electronic beats.

Phillipakis has said he keeps his lyrics intentionally vague so that they won't go stale. But there's a line between lyrics that are vague in a striking way and lyrics that just don't do anything, and most of Phillipakis' are on the wrong side of it. His lyrics aren't as repetitive as, say, Mark E. Smith's, but he sings phrases like “We ride balloons on this fuel called love” and “It's just another hospital” over and over, often breaking them into smaller parts, then singing the entire line again. This approach might work well if there were some audible urgency in the music to make me believe all those repetitions of meaningless phrases suggested some underlying obsession, but then we're back around to the production, which doesn't help the music sound urgent at all.

Still, there's something interesting buried in here. Foals name-check Devo and Terry Riley as influences, and that's not just posturing - there are angular rhythms and repetitive patterns galore, and occasionally those two features collide and Foals suddenly sound a little like robot-rock heroes Battles. Foals' live clips have the quirky, off-kilter energy of good math rock, and their songs (even on record) feature relatively long instrumental breaks, and snappy, jangly guitar riffs that display that suddenly ubiquitous influence of African pop music. Their music is also very technically accomplished (although, again, that may be part of the problem). Antidotes doesn't do much for me, but I'd be interested in hearing these guys again in a couple years.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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