Foals' hit debut Antidotes was best characterized by a marked, hybridized method of indie, math, and dance-punk styles. It was enlivening, anthemic, and essentially relentless. And when the band took a more-or-less standard two years and change to follow it, one might have expected more of the same. Thankfully, Total Life Forever refreshes the band's mode while slyly retaining some of the hallmarks that made them so alluring in the first place.
Total Life Forever isn't necessarily the band's watershed release, but compared to the debut, there's a ton of restraint here. The band's incredibly more subtle and nuanced with their guitar histrionics and assorted noodles, allowing it to act as more of a pulse for the record's "alternative dance" leanings. They've also largely shed the blatancy of Antidotes' inspirations — there was nothing inherently wrong with hearing it on the record, but it was easy to spot the influence of acts like Bloc Party, Battles, and Minus the Bear. Now they're cloaking their record collections a little better through crushingly catchy and intricately atmospheric soundscapes, sparsely littered with pedals and electronics.
Nowhere is this aforementioned detail of newfound deliberation more evident, however, than on the album's first single, "Spanish Sahara." Though probably most effective within the context of its visually stunning video (the way it was premiered), it's the most room Foals have ever given to one of their songs — and that's in terms of both length and musical approach. Frontman Yannis Philippakis isn't quite Jónsi here, but he's capably high-pitched enough to equip the song's post-rock-loaded front half with somber, curious hooks until the seven-minute track of measured, spaced-out guitar plucks lets bustling loop pedals give resolution to a thoroughly compelling buildup. It's a hell of a thing to witness.
Most of the other songs use similar ideas at their respective base but bear greater shades of immediacy. Philippakis often uses minimal words to embellish some indelible hooks within nearly every track, and the effect is trance-like. The joy of Total Life Forever is getting locked into these patterns and never wanting to leave — whether that be Philippakis' homeland confessions ushering in opener "Blue Blood," the modestly bellowed chorus of the title track or the darker drive of closer "What Remains."
Total Life Forever has plenty of carefully progressive tendencies and artistic growth to show for Foals' development, and alongside it is a generous share of memorable moments — the perfectly moderated response to a sprightly debut. Two for two.