‘It’s just another hospital, it’s just another, it’s just another…’ It is with these words, not so much sung as chanted by Foals’ frontman Yannis Philippakis, that one of the most haunting songs to reside in my music library leaves an indelible mark in the mind of the listener. ‘Electric Bloom’ comes from the British five-piece’s debut, Antidotes and sits uncomfortably amongst the rest of the tracks, more generally poppy, upbeat versions of the alternative rock sound that has won the band legions of fans in both the rock and more ‘indie’ worlds. Where rock bands often try to strike a balance between populist pandering and serious instrumentality, Foals, perhaps more than many acts over the past few years, have achieved a heady mix of catchy and serious tunes, each bolstered by the group’s obvious commitment to their craft. It is songs like ‘Electric Bloom’ – dark and complex – that, accompanying their less serious tunes, have supported both the band’s popular and critical reputation.
But that doesn’t mean that ‘Electric Bloom’ is easy listening. Far from it. The song is one of only a few that I will often skip listening to on shuffle; not only because it fundamentally scares me but also because this very fear is evidence of the fact that it requires more dedicated listening than the perfunctory public transport listen would allow. Hospitals (as a series of blogs over a year back now can attest to) are not particularly enjoyable places to be. By focusing the song’s chorus on the institution and assuming a tone that could be either derisive or resigned – with equal, spine-tingling effects – Foals make sure that listeners know that an electric bloom, whatever that might be, is no light matter. Opening cymbals reverberating in alternative speakers establish a definite sense of unease while throughout, Bloc Party ‘Positive Tension’-style guitars, tightly controlled and needling, only serve to heighten listener anxiety.
Taken together, the apathetic and delayed vocals, the thematic premise of war, death and decay and that underlying, unnerving instrumentation make ‘Electric Bloom’ a song that you might skip on shuffle too. But as with all good things, this song takes time. It took me a few months on leaving the cardiothoracic ward to stop being freaked out by the wailing chorus and even once you get used to the devastatingly bleak imagery employed, stabbing percussion left deliberately high in the mix, and the unrelenting gloom (a guitar shift just before the 3′ mark threatens threatens change which never comes as we relapse into ‘marching bands laid to rest’) make ‘Electric Bloom’ a difficult pill to swallow. Still, dedicated listening is rewarded by a song that, while superficially scary, is ultimately richly layered and superbly evocative. It is not necessarily conventional Foals but given the band’s capacity to straddle mosh-pit and navel-gazing territory, they’ll be recording and touring for a while yet. ‘Electric Bloom’ is an opportunity to get to know their darker side.
Foals – ‘Electric Bloom’
[Photo by the one and only Dan Boud.]