First up we want to stress how bloody wonderful it is that one of the most exciting album of 2008 has arrived already in the shape of ‘Antidotes’; a minimalist punk funk techno collision that takes in influences from Steve Reich by way of Q & Not U. From the blog world to the broadsheets, Foals have had everyone who encounters them foaming at the mouth for well over a year now. Five comfortably middle class, highly educated boys making music that has as much to do with getting pissed and pulling as The Pigeon Detectives know about splitting the atom. Indeed, it’s not normally this way. Looking back over the past ten years or so, music this distinctive does not achieve broad exposure and love. So it’s a testament to the growing musical palette of the British youth and of course Foals themselves that ‘Antidotes’ is not just the most technically capable and musically ambitious album so far in 2008, but also the most likely to make a new band on an indie label absolutely fucking enormous.
So what does it sound like? The most important thing to say is that it is almost stubbornly uncompromising. Yannis Phillipakis and co. clearly feel no need to bow to commercial pressure, in actual fact it seems as though they sprint away from it at full speed. Famously, both ‘Hummer’ and ‘Mathletics’, tracks that brought Foals to the public’s attention are absent on ‘Antidotes’. It might seem like a strange move but listening to the album it’s hard to see where exactly they would have fitted in. The aforementioned songs’ tight beats and inter playing guitars run through the album but the pace of them is totally at odds with the slow emergence of tracks like ‘Electric Bloom’ with its pained screams of “It’s just another hospital” over a sparse musical landscape.
One of the strangest but most gratifying things about Foals is how they’re indebted to pop music as much as they are to post rock and the much feted, but not apparent here, Math Rock. Many of their gigs over the summer began with a blast of Gwen Stefani and suitably the melodies of the popular mainstream music are laced in every strand of ‘Antidotes’ DNA. That’s not to say these melodies are obvious, they are hidden under layers of bleeps, clipped riffs, beats and feedback - peel back the layers of ‘Antidotes’ and you find a new level every time. The album opens with ‘The French Open’ a sort of tag team battle between Yannis and Jimmy Smith’s guitars and Edwin Congreaves synths. It’s the perfect introduction; it’s techno for indie kids, the technical elements of one with the heart and soul of the other.
Then comes Foals’ most straight forward track ‘Cassius’ (easily the best song about the fall of Rome ever written), a relentless disco banger that heralds the introduction of the NYC Collective Antibalas. Much was made of Foals recruiting TV On the Radio’s Dave Sitek as producer and his introduction of a brass group to Foals dark brooding music. Well it works, in parts. This is not a Mark Ronson style “drown out the lack of ideas with a trumpet” move- Antibalas back up the heaviest parts of the album, giving it more depth and show the trumpet can be played in an almost punk style.
It seems easy and even banal to compare the two, but ‘Antidotes’ is the natural successor the Klaxons ‘Myths Of The Near Future’ in terms of diverse alternative British music to be proud of. Both albums have clear dance floor stand out tracks (If ‘Red Socks Pugie’ isn’t THE single of 2008 then we are in for a good year) and the more pure and unadulterated end of their respective influences. Where Klaxons looked to early 90’s rave and the latter day electro clash Foals are more indebted to the likes of Sweep The Leg Johnny and hardcore punk. These ideas of smashing the rules and building them back up piece by piece are clear for all to see on the second half of ‘Antidotes’ which contains the much more bare ‘Heavy Water’ and previous B-Sides ‘Two Steps, Twice’ and ‘Big Big Love (Fig 2.)’. These largely instrumental songs are where most of the fly by night fans will depart and find fans in the people that would normally spit on an NME cover star.
The album ends with ‘Tron’ a conglomeration of all the ideas thrown into the pot over the previous 42 minutes. Backing vocals, the tête-à-tête of guitars, brass, synths and Yannis’s typically abstract lyrics all combine to create a cohesive backdrop that showcases these five men’s enormous potential and the acres of space they seem able to create in order to grow into. ‘Antidotes’ is not a flavour of the week album, it’s the opening opus of a band who are here to stay. Ambitious, exciting and utterly divine, they have shown that at the end of the day brilliant music will out.