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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

For Foals, the Third Time’s the Charm

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Edwin Congreave says that Foals recent third album, Holy Fire, was easily the least stressful and smoothest album the group has made. “This album, we made it in London,” the keyboardist says. “We were living kind of at home. We were much more in our element. For that reason, I think we were a lot more laid back, a lot more experienced. We were able to work much more productively and positively.”

That’s a description that certainly wouldn’t have applied to the process for Foals’ 2008 debut album, Antidotes. After finishing the album with producer Dave Sitek (of TV On The Radio), the group members received the finished album only to find they disliked the mix, enough so that they remixed it before it was released.

“There was an enormous amount of stress because there was a very short space of time (for recording),” Congreave says of that tumultuous project. “The record label had the release date scheduled. At least in the United Kingdom, there was a lot of hype surrounding the release. We basically thought we had fucked it up. So there was a long period of time right before that came out where we kind of thought we had ruined everything.”

Fortunately, fans and the music press didn’t agree. Antidotes was a hit in the U.K., debuting at number three on the album chart, while the album was well received in the United States as Foals quickly became touted as a band to watch on the alternative rock scene.

Of course, the band’s second album, 2010’s Total Life Forever, came with different kinds of issues.

“We went to quite a dark place in Sweden in the winter, and we had a residential studio,” Congreave says. “And basically I think we spent a bit too long there and we all sort of lost the plot a little bit.

“We did feel like we were working very hard, but also sometimes not working to win,” he says. “I think we felt like we were losing a little bit.”

The second album marked a significant shift musically for Foals, moving away from the angular rock of Antidotes toward a more spacious, ambient sound. Congreave said it’s his favorite Foals album, but he is well aware that Total Life Forever confused its share of fans, some of whom, Congreave says, only recently seemed to warm to the record.

Holy Fire, while it has its own identity musically, retains elements of Foals’ first two albums. Songs like  “Everytime,” “Late Night” and “Milk & Black Spiders” have some of the spacious feel of Total Life Forever (but enough rhythmic tension to keep them grounded). On the other hand, “Inhaler,” which mixes glammy rock and Depeche Mode-ish synth-rock, and “Providence,” a propulsive rocker that builds in intensity as it reaches a sweeping finish, lend the record a harder edge.

And as Congreave notes, the album was produced without any of the difficulty that characterized the band’s previous records. He credits producers Flood (aka Mark Ellis) and Alan Moulder for keeping the recording process on track. The two are old studio pros, having worked on acclaimed albums by the likes of U2, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and The Killers, and they helped get Holy Fire off to a proper start by helping the band get its new songs in shape during pre-production.

“They spent about a week going through all of the music that we had and sort of essentially telling us how it was going to be, like ‘You can’t do this,’ ‘This isn’t working,’ ‘I don’t know what this is,’” Congreave recalls. “We didn’t lose valuable studio time. We didn’t waste money. We didn’t get to that difficult point in the studio, like four months into an album recording, when suddenly everyone realizes that they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Foals play the Turner Hall Ballroom on Sunday, May 19 with openers Surfer Blood and Blondfire. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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