Foals Antidotes

[Sub Pop; 2008]

Styles: clean electric guitar over boom-cha-boom-cha uptempo drums (a.k.a. ‘dance punk-cum-indie rock’)
Others: Bloc Party, TV On The Radio, Klaxons, Test Icicles, GoodBooks

My initial review of Foals' Antidotes outlined all the things that I loved and hated about it, a tradition long held by music critics. The problem was that I both loved and hated what I hated, and hated and loved and what I loved. Confused? Apparently so was I. When I sent in my ‘finished’ version of the review, P sends me an email saying something to the effect of "this review has more holes than swiss cheese with bullet wounds -- have you been sniffing rubber cement again?"

In my original commentary on the super-hyped indie Oxford five-piece, I somehow managed to compare Foals' debut album Antidotes to R.E.M.'s latest, Accelerate. P's response: "What does R.E.M. have to do with a dance-punk outfit?" The answer, of course, is that they have very little in common. However, they do actually have one shared trait: both Antidotes and Accelerate are records from 2008 that sound like spirited attempts at milking a very tired, overused set of sounds from an old cow. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

But while R.E.M. have been releasing jangly pop on a major label for years, Foals are fresh to the dance-punk game. Antidotes is their debut full-length album, preceded only by a live EP and a couple stellar 12-inch singles (both of which are tacked onto the end of the North American release). However, like The Arcade Fire and Bloc Party before them, the group has managed to occupy a bunch of blog real estate, leading them to earn PR-ready tags from big publications like NME and Rolling Stone.

As previously mentioned, Antidotes isn't a record trying to create a new genre, but instead relies heavily on the sound that's become so popular since Q And Not U started shoving their fists into the territory years back. Singles like "Cassius" echo their Bloc Party peers, and "Big Big Love (Fig 2)" sits on TV On The Radio land, thanks perhaps to the production assistance of Dave Sitek on the record. Although early mixes by Dave Sitek were rejected by the band due its distant, reverb-laden sound, Sitek's fingerprints are still present. You can hear the tiny footsteps of Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Liars LPs in the distance, tip-toeing toward you throughout Antidotes. Indeed, this is typical dance punk affair, with additional British accents and a couple buckets of salty energy sweat from the rhythm section.

Things get more interesting, though, when the group wears their Steve Reich influences more proudly on their sleeves. The cycling one-two-one-two background melody of "Balloons" and the minimalist, looping guitars of "Two Steps Twice" present a group with a bit more going on than the usual amphetamine/caffeine-fueled indie rock of their contemporaries. Cuts "Red Socks Pugie" and "Balloons" are incredibly enjoyable British chanters that make you want to shake like it's two days, two months, and two years ago. Meanwhile, tracks like "Cassius" and the previously released "Hummer" are sure to have the younger crowds singing along, with catchy and infectious electric guitars chiming like synthesizer sequences atop a layer of rolling and driving drum fills.

Anyone who enjoyed Bloc Party's Silent Alarm should also enjoy Foals' noise-infused adaptation of the dance punk sound. Foals are machine-tuned tight, and the record itself takes very few breathers. It's unfortunate, however, that Foals started playing this "dance punk" game so late. Were it still 2006, Antidotes would likely have been a bigger standout. But at the end of the day, it's up to the listener whether or not they care how "new" the record sounds. Antidotes is really a pleasurable record that found itself displaced by its worn-out, second-hand clothing. It's even appealing to a middle-aged music writer who sniffs rubber cement.

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