The Foals' math rock deserves more than Austin respect: Here's to conductingwith drums
It's easy to sit here at CultureMap's master audio studio/listening bistro/DJ training center (aka, my laptop) and pick concerts by artists who have won armfuls of Grammys, logged No. 1 hits like it was as easy as filling a frequent-eaters card at Quiznos and are known from the tip of Cape Horn to the ice caps of the North Pole.
Every once in a while, however, a music journalist has got to push all his chips in on an artist whose chili is just starting to get hot.
Dealer, I'm all in on Foals. And any alternative rock fans who like their digitized beats and harmonies splashed with a bit of ambient abstract should step up to the plate and come support this Oxford, England buzz band when it plays Fitzgerald's on Tuesday night. This is the type of cool-ass band that needs to know it will get support in Texas outside of Austin.
I first got wind of Foals about two years ago when the concept of "math rock" — music featuring asymmetrical time signatures and atypical beat patterns — started entering my consciousness with the ascent of bands like Minus the Bear, Mute Math and Bloc Party. Think more Radiohead and less early Beatles when trying to put sounds to that definition.
Foals debut album, Antidotes, wasn't exactly math rock, but was certainly well crafted and slightly jarring when propped against a pop landscape that is built primarily in 4/4 time. In addition to layers of strings, beats and vocals, the recordings were executed in muted and sometimes purposely amateur ways (rhythms collected on cassette players and then washed back into the track mix) for a vibe that sounds like it was created in anyplace but a sterile recording studio.
Brits caught on quickly to Foals (aren't those pale-skinned, sharp-eared English kids always ahead of the alt-rock curve?) but here in the land of Bon Jovi and Miley Cyrus, Antidotes was nearly ignored.
The group's second and most recent album, Total Life Forever, has fared better on this side of the pond venturing into the Top 40 of the Billboard Heatseekers charts when it was released last year. More confident and with more resources at his discretion, lead singer Yannis Philippakis sounds like a conductor who uses guitars and drums to lead his symphony in lieu of a conductor's baton.
The slow pulse and Neil Young-like falsetto of "Spanish Sahara" makes the listener feel like things are about to get hot and lonely. It's reminiscent of "My Morning Jacket" at its emotional best before exploding into a dance track. By contrast, the delicate strings and quick-chanting of "This Orient" is music that takes a listener to places in the mind without physically having to leave the cozy confines of their headphones.
That's only part of the journey the Foals are providing with this new music. The rest requires a trip to Fitz's on Tuesday. See you there.