A strange title. One of the least well-known tracks off Foals first, brilliant, album, “Antidotes”. While I associated Foals mostly with the Talking Heads and African beats speeded up, “Big Big Love” has a shimmering guitar which could take it into U2’s “Unforgettable Fire”.
I’ve been writing about Foals for my book recently. This is part of what I said.
But listen to “Big Big Love” as you read.
One of the many sub genres of indie, coming out of the US, was math rock. Math rock? Basically meant complex, jumpy rhythms as far as I can tell. The Wikipedia article on the genre – of course there is a Wikipedia article on it – cites a huge number of bands that I have never heard of, including one called Heavy Vegetable. 70s prog rock was an influence. Joy in the complex. That’s alright – there’s a place for it, though as this story has shown, I err towards simplicity when it comes to favourites. I only mention this because the next band I want to mention is Foals. Wikipedia has them down as math rock in their early days and I can see why. They even have a track called “Mathletics”, which was their second single, in 2007. The first was “Hummer” and the third was “Balloon”, which was also the first single off their debut album, “Antidotes”. I’ve got the NME to thank, once again, for introducing me to Foals. Both “Hummer” and “Mathletics” were in the upper echelons of NME’s top singles of 2007 chart. I gave them a listen and thought, wow, these are good. “Balloons” was there for download too. There was really something special about the band. The sound was dominated by a high register guitar beat that sounded like an African lilt speeded up so it pogoed rather than lilted. Singer Yannis Philipakkis’s voice was pretty high register too. It was all rather fraught, but really sharp and sort of funky. It was impossible for me not to make the inevitable Talking Heads comparison, but Foals didn’t sound like Talking Heads used to sound, but how they might have sounded in 2007 with the same technology at their disposal. The bands certainly shared the same spirit, with a clear love of dance and Afro beats meshed in with their new wave guitars.
“Andidotes” came out in 2008. It fulfilled the promise of those early singles. “Cassius” and “Olympic Airways” continued with the high pitched high step. “The French Open” introduced a shredded reggae beat with some French lyrics, which, on close inspection, meant nothing at all. The lyrics generally were an accompaniment to the beats. Intriguing allusions with no finishing place – not unlike their Oxford compatriots, Radiohead. Shards of words and music. Left to your imagination.
And throughout the album there were chiming guitars, pulsating rhythms, and those searching vocals. Towards the end of the album, things slowed down a little, and, if anything, got even more interesting. I liked “Big Big Love (Fig 2)”, which kept the chiming beat, but was deeper. I loved the opening riff, which, I have to say, could have been on U2’s “Unforgettable Fire”. “Two Steps,Twice” started with a some high-pitched plucking and then morphed into a drum-laden chant that became one of the band’s live highlights. They first appeared at Glastonbury in 2008, on the other stage, but were back in 2010 under the tent on the John Peel stage. By then they were featuring songs from the second album, “Total Life Forever”, which had a mellower sound; but the the energy of the band was extraordinary. “Two Steps, Twice” marked the point when Yannis leapt into the audience and took some time, and about six orange-coated security guards, to re-emerge. It was one of the most powerful live performances I had seen in a while, if only on TV.
Foals went down as my top indie band of the late 2000s, rivalled only by Glasvegas, in their moment of triumph.
If your acquaintance with Foals is “Holy Fire”. I urge you to go back to “Antidotes”, and “Big Big Love”. The best of the band.
I love this Foals track – will check out their music. Although I grew up listening to music that is marked strongly by complex mathematical permutations and combinations of notes in Indian Classical music, the first time I came across the term ‘math’ being used explicitly to describe a form of music was with reference to metal, specifically to a band called Meshuggah. But the problem, I felt, with ‘math metal’ was the excessive focus on the technical wizardry. I go to the Meshuggah albums rarely. As long as the ‘math’ of it doesn’t seem very deliberate and doesn’t overwhelm the ‘feel’ of the music, it can be very rewarding to the listener.
Foals aren’t too complex. I wouldn’t be a fan if they were, being a simple rock’n’roller at heart!
I never heard this before. I like it! You come up with some very interesting pieces.
A lifetime of music obsession!