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    The college dropouts

    Edwin Congreave, keyboardist for Foals, has been told that I’m reporting for Oxford Brookes. When I inform him that I’m from Cherwell, his eyes light up as if I’m Louis Theroux.

    But his reaction is misleading – he has no time for Oxford University, which he left after one year spent studying English Literature at St Hugh’s. He explains in predictable terms that he ‘didn’t yet know what direction my life was headed. I needed some time to figure it all out… and Indie Soc was shit.’ Two years later, his life took an unforeseen turn when he was asked by friend and fellow Oxford drop-out Yannis Philippakis to join his new band Foals as keyboardist, despite never having played a keyboard before. ‘I’m still fitting in’, he says.

    Edwin and Yannis may both have abandoned their English Literature studies, but a high-flown poetic sensibility informs their songwriting. During recording sessions for their new album, Yannis predicted that the finished product would sound ‘like the dream of an eagle dying’ (it doesn’t).

    I suggest that the band have an air of academia, even pretentiousness; but Edwin has his own ideas about what makes a band pretentious. ‘Academic maybe, but we’re not pretentious, because we believe in what we preach. Swans was a pretentious band, as was Nirvana, with the nihilism.’ As I struggle to think of better evidence of Kurt Cobain’s sincerity than his suicide, Edwin adds, ‘The eagle comment was a joke’.
    The band’s second album Total Life Forever, released last week, is not the ball of energy that the title promises. Eschewing the hysteria of 2008 debut Antidotes, it takes half a step towards the sonic grandeur of Radiohead before succumbing to drowsiness. This leaves room for gorgeous melodies and blurry textures that were nowhere to be heard on Antidotes. Yet Edwin is quick to dismiss my favourite minute of the album, the Krautrock-esque interlude ‘Fugue’: ‘That was just [guitarist] Jimmy pissing about. It doesn’t indicate the direction we’re taking.’ Again, he doesn’t know what direction the band is taking – but this time he’s not planning on dropping out.

    He is however clear on where the band comes from. ‘The German dance bands of the 70s, like Can and Neu, were a big influence… Talking Heads too. Talking Heads not only influenced loads of bands, but those bands became very influential themselves. [Talking Heads] are at the top of this network of genres, and they were experimental too.’ Foals certainly take after Talking Heads in picking wacky, pseudo-intellectual subject matter (‘This Orient’, from the new album, draws on the concept of Orientalism). More pertinently, funk and surf rock were the sounds behind Total Life Forever. Sly & The Family Stone can be heard in the album’s deep, languid basslines.
    Wearing such eclectic influences on their sleeves, Foals try hard to stay aloof from the indie scene. Edwin insists that they don’t in fact belong to any scene, and when I ask to what extent the band deliberately creates its own media image, he immediately retorts, ‘What’s our image?’. He even spurns NME, the magazine that has given his band two cover features: ‘They tend to focus on one band at a time and hype them up… I don’t like that.’ It’s maybe for this reason that Foals haven’t followed the pattern set by their contemporaries. They don’t go for Johnny Borrell’s brand of quote-friendly arrogance, they don’t wear drainpipes, and they’re unlikely to explode in a Libertines-style cocaine supernova any time soon.

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