FOALS with the SEBASTIEN GRAINGER at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (May 2). $13.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
It’s jarring enough to come across an album by the latest UK media-hyped act that isn’t relentlessly lame, but listening to the Foals’ debut disc, Antidotes (Warner), and not hearing all the same rehashed Wire and Gang of Four moves is a genuine relief.
If every so-called “new Radiohead” group sounded as energetic, enthusiastic and decidedly unlike any overwrought Thom Yorke self-indulgence as these reformed math rockers, the music world would be a much better place.
“We don’t really have much in common socially or musically with most of the other British bands that we appear in the magazines with,” explains Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis. “I feel we’re an anomaly in the sense that the scene in Oxford we came out of was entirely blind to any sort of commercial ambition. So suddenly getting all this mainstream exposure is a bit weird. We’re happy about the attention, but at the same time, we’re not moving to London and turning into socialites with nose jobs.”
Contrary to what some might surmise, their decision to buck the post-punk trend has less to do with their high-strapped instruments cutting off the circulation of blood to their brains than it does with their shared natural inclination toward the path less travelled.
How else can you explain otherwise sensible young lads dropping out of Oxford University to sign a deal with the Transgressive Records indie label, notable for helping to launch the careers of UK grunge revivalists the Subways and tweed-friendly geek rockers the Young Knives?
On the upside, if Foals want to go all the way to New York with the idea of replicating the polyrhythmic experiments the Talking Heads got into after David Byrne discovered African music, the dudes who run Transgressive would be game to let them give it a shot, even if they knew nothing of the Nigerian Afrobeat music Philippakis keeps raving about.
“Yeah, we’re definitely fans of the Talking Heads,” concedes Philippakis. “We’ve all listened to Remain In Light a lot and also The Flowers Of Romance by Public Image, which were the two big influences on our band prior to making the album. But for the whole month before going into the studio to record, we didn’t listen to any rock music whatsoever. Instead we had this collection of Tony Allen Afro-disco stuff playing constantly, and we wanted to get that kind of rich and muscular brass-accented sound.”
Once the group finished recording with producer Dave Sitek, the TV on the Radio guitarist who has worked with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and, more recently, with aspiring chanteuse Scarlett Johansson, they returned to England and left Sitek to mix the album himself in New York. It turned out that the sound Sitek envisioned for the album and the one Foals had in mind were two very different things. Consequently, Sitek’s mix was canned, and his name is conspicuously absent from publicity material.
“This was our debut record, something we’d always wanted to do, and it was beginning to feel like it wasn’t ours any more. So we reclaimed it and mixed it ourselves.
“I try to make our feelings about Dave perfectly clear in every interview and say what a massive help he was to us. More than just a producer of the record, he made us challenge our concept of why we made music and who we were making it for, and in the pro-cess, he rearranged our thoughts. We came home from New York a very different band.”
Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis explains why the group's popular early singles were left off their Antidotes album:
There seems to be a driving impetus within the band to keep experimenting with new concepts and moving forward. Had the Foals sound already evolved since recording the album?: