A Post-Hardcore Revival: Foals & French Miami
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Dinner Party Records
Rating: 8 out of 10
When the fists stopped flying around the mid-eighties, allowing for some of the crooked noses to set and the flowing blood to scab over after the turbulence of the hardcore days, a wave of desired artistic growth and possible boredom with the scene led to the formation of post-hardcore. Post-hardcore groups, mostly those of late-80s Dischord era (Rites Of Spring, Fugazi) or mid-80s SST (Hüsker Dü, Meat Puppets, later evolutions of Black Flag via the enlightenment of Greg Ginn), were noise-allegiant but turned on to melody which, in most cases, was avoided when it was all about yelling, screaming and going really fucking fast.
The sounds of post-punk has seemed the basis for inspiration within the indie rock scene these days, evoking Joy Divisions a-many, with Public Image disco beats aplenty. Oxford, England’s Foals, debuting in early April with their Sub Pop release Antidotes, were readily categorized as part of the post-punk revival and comparable to the likes of Modest Mouse and Franz Ferdinand. It’s not an unfounded observation: If ever there were a band that clung to that indie disco beat, you’d be hard-pressed to find one more loyal or obedient.
But, listening to Antidotes, I could hear a little more going on: an unpolished, albeit melodious, combination of harmonic strings and intricate picking, partly owned by Television, partly owned by Fugazi. Granted there’s nothing particularly noisy about the Foals, but listening to the dirty trashcan percussion of “Red Socks Pugie,” they seem to crossover enough to standout as more than just a Franz Ferdinand sound-alike.
Similarly, San Francisco’s French Miami, also debuting this year, emerged with their self-titled ode to minimalist noise rock, wearing their Warmers/Fugazi/Jawbox inspiration proudly and adding some Devo-esque synth to the equation.
Having rejected TV On The Radio producer Dave Sitek’s original mix, already showing signs of biting the hand that feeds, Foals apply a rather thick and disciplined standard of chord juxtaposition and post-punk dance rhythm. Singer/guitarist Yannis Philippakis, though not necessarily the most distinctive voice in Brindie rock, at times exudes a wimpy rebelliousness that also comes across as genuine and emotionally heartfelt. His exerted enunciation in hi-tempo “Cassius” has an air of punk flamboyance a la Richard Hell but then the “let’s disappear till tomorrow” passion-laced “Olympic Airways” draws out the romantic over minimal harmonic strings.
Despite sticking rather closely to their formula, Antidotes is an inconsistent effort. Opening with the very cool jam-based salsa dance mix of “The French Open,” there’s a promise of mathematical and angular interaction that comes to fruition, but the album grows overwrought. Even with an unnecessary trumpet in place, the opening track and following track, “Cassius,” have energy to them, an energy that seems to keep up with “Red Socks Pugie” and the aforementioned “Olympic Airways.”
When “Electric Bloom” enters the picture, the album begins to run out of steam, falling victim to an excessive mixture of ideas that lose focus. “Balloons” momentarily brings the groove back, and “Heavy Water,” though at times a little slow, still has enough interesting moments to carry the album. By the “Two Steps, Twice,” Antidotes begins to feel overdone, as if the Foals had expended their bag of tricks and stretched themselves a little thin. “Big Big Love (Fig. 2)” is mostly directionless and long, and closing track, “Tron,” is one more dance rhythm to sit through before the album closes.
French Miami open their album with a filler track and end it with a filler track. The middle, though, is pure minimized art rock, jagged edges sharpened by gleaming synthesizer and smooth grooves. “God Damn Best” rings out with one ugly riff transitioning into a slammed power jam. “What’cha gonna do with all that/What’cha gonna do with love,” questions vocalist Jason Heiselmann amidst a thickly rendered garage storm of pulsating syth, fractured guitar strings and cymbal clad percussion.
Following track, “Science Fiction,” cleanly positions a repetitious sped-up finger-tapped riff with an otherwise mid-tempo backbeat and long undulating keyboard sounds. Time signatures do get accessed as the song moves on, making it maybe the most complex song on the album. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “Mr. Moment” is followed up by the somewhat epic “Multi Caliber Rifles,” its anticipatory pay off of a beginning leading into more pay offs like a musical Russian doll before the song shifts into a fairly accessible pop rhythm.
“Windwar,” a John Carpenter of a synthesizer instrumental, winds and wallows before leading into “Lil’ Rabbits,” with nary a keyboard to be found. “Lil’ Rabbits” is one of the stronger songs present, reasonably aggressive without throwing off the momentum of the album. Though, lyrically, the song is tediously repetitious. “All On Fire,” slow and somewhat lifeless, leads into the Gary Numan-esque robotics of “Nineteen Ninety One.”
“S.F.O.,” strangely opening with a 80s break beat before launching into what sounds like a disco rhythmic Wire track, is the album’s strongest song, mostly reliant on the layering of elements and working harmonies overtop the foundation. Its complexities are subtle, which is why it’s so successful, and indicative of the attention French Miami offers its sound.
With Foals and French Miami, it’s possible that the closing of the unnamed millennial decade could lead into a second surge of alt-rock revivalism. Canada’s Ten Kens have already tapped into the Pixies portion of the equation, so its post-hardcore counterparts seem to be next in line.
Letters From A Tapehead