“Pumped Up Kicks,” the lead single on Foster the People’s debut album, has organically become an alt-pop radio hit with its breezy L.A. sound and Peter Bjorn And John’s “Young Folks”-inspired whistling. I was so engrossed with the cheery melody of its chorus that it took me a few listens to discover that the lyrics suggest dark, Columbine revenge. Then again, ”catchy” can mean both pleasing and deceptive.
Foster the People, Pumped Up Kicks
On their debut Torches, L.A.-based Foster the People show a lot of promise with forays into rock, dance, and MGMT-styled psych pop. It doesn’t quite light the way into a new era of music and might not be gritty enough for rock enthusiasts, but Torches fills a void for those looking for catchy hooks and less derivative, more complicated pop.
The array of sounds and styles on the album make Foster the People seem reluctant to be fit in a particular category. They bemoan labels and judgments (“What’s your style and who do you listen to? / Who cares?”) on the standout track “Call It What You Want” with its huge chorus, dance beats, and incredible, tumbling piano riffs.
Foster the People, Call It What You Want
The limitation of Mark Foster’s thin-voiced lead vocal doesn’t always match the sophistication he has on keyboards or the varied drumming of Mark Pontius. The too-sweet “I Would Do Anything for You” approaches the cloying territory of Maroon 5. At Foster’s best, he mimics the attitude of Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears. In “Helena Beat,” Foster’s falsetto rises above layered electronics and quickly shifting chords. And he smoothly advocates frittering the day away on the unabashed pop of “Waste.”
Whenever Torches goes slack it’s redeemed. Whistling should probably be minimal but it’s too shameless on the twangy and thankfully short “Color on the Walls (Don’t Stop)”: a rare moment on the album where the melody is both undeveloped and uninteresting. But the band works well together on the appropriately insistent “Miss You” with its tenacious drumbeat and lovely reverbed vocal and on epic album closer “Warrant,” which opens with quiet, angelic synths and delves into a big, sparkly meditation on escape.
Foster the People, Houdini (RAC Remix)
Foster the People, Pumped Up Kicks (Gigagmesh Remix)
Foster the People’s music is well-suited for remixes. The 80s pop synth RAC edit of “Houdini” and the shiny disco Gigamesh spin on “Pumped Up Kicks” have been making the music blog rounds. Torches is fairly sunny throughout, perhaps too well-suited for a hipster beach cookout, but there’s enough sophistication with melody and sound on here to enjoy until their next endeavor.
Jeffery Berg is a poet who lives in Manhattan. His FP music reviews include Hercules and Love Affair and Twin Shadow. He edits poetry for Clementine and Mary and writes about film, guilty pleasures, and various obsessions on jdbrecords.