There’s More Here than Just Fancy Sneakers

foster the people

by Charissa Lock @charissalock 11/17/2011

This album may be more difficult to write about, knowing that it’s one of the more mainstream bands I have ever reviewed. In all actuality it took me awhile to get into Foster the People and to accept Torches as a creative and unique album – probably based on the fact that “Pumped Up Kicks,” could be heard everywhere. Whether in D’Angelo’s, on the radio (something I have been told – I only listen to the radio if I slip into early Alzheimer’s and forget my iPod, which is very rare), on “Saturday Night Live,” and played by a cover band in an Irish bar. Ironically, an Irish bar was my first experience with Foster the People.

My friends and I were singing along to the tunes that a younger cover-band was playing at an Irish bar in Providence. Between them rocking out to Vampire Weekend’s “A-Punk” and Say Anything’s “Alive With the Glory of Love,” I realized they had a pretty good taste in music (and everyone else at the bar could see that I enjoyed their taste in music – there was a lot of flipping out on my end when I heard “When I want you….”). Among these, I heard a really fun song that I had never heard before. As I quickly learned the words and was singing along on the last chorus “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run faster than my bullet…” I honestly thought this was something from the 80s and I had somehow missed out on it.

Watching “Saturday Night Live,” I caught the live performance of “Pumped Up Kicks,” and was in shock that not only was this song current, but the band was young, and it was not from the 1980s. In fact, the album (Torches) that this single had come off of had come out May 2011. Though I enjoyed watching the enthusiasm Mark Foster (vocals, keyboards/synth, piano, and guitar), Mark Pontius (drums), and Cubbie Fink (bass) brought to their live version, I was disappointed that it was not the loud, guitar and drums that the cover band had played. Instead, it was this calm song, having more synth than drums. As much as I did not want to fall for this band, song in particular (like everyone else had), it kept playing in my head. I was singing it without realizing and knew that the only thing to be done was to listen to Torches. While cleaning my apartment, I had this album on and I realized that it was not as “scene,” as I had previously thought and the other songs had something to them. Yet, I was still not convinced it was something I would really enjoy.

It took me buying the album (because I now needed to listen in my car), to realize that the other tracks had a lot going on and I surprisingly kept comparing certain aspects of them to great bands like MGMT. Every song had something to offer and none of them were boring – even the slower ones (you can read this explanation in my review of The Kook’s Junk of the Heart). The more I listened, the more I found myself liking different songs and catching musical elements I had not noticed before. It has now come to the point where I feel that although “Pumped Up Kicks,” is a catchy song, it is quite simple compared to the other tracks. I have also come to terms with this single not being the head-mashing version, but only due to “Pumped Up Kicks” being a part of the album as a whole and not as a separate song.

Every track on Torches starts off with a great beat. In some cases (like in “Call It What You Want,” and “Warrant”) you are completely thrown off guard as to what the song will be like after hearing the intro. This addition is great, because you begin with an idea of what you are going to hear, and then are taken to another place that is more fun than where you started. In other cases, it ends this way, like in “I Would Do Anything for You,” which I can fully appreciate. Though there are no songs on this album that I don’t like, there are certainly a few that stand out for me. The first, going chronologically, is “Waste.” It has this low-key beat that is a background piece to the vocals which have a sexy vibe to them, and there is a great bridge which is the necessary falsetto to one of the slower songs. Another is “Houdini,” which is a great sing along with a definite beat, fun keyboards, and a “chill” chorus. Track 9, “Miss You,” is the opposite of “Waste,” where the fast-paced, multiple electronic instrumentation is what hooks you resulting in instant head-bobbing – peaking at 2 minutes, 34 seconds for the continuation of the song which is strictly instrumental. “Broken Jaw,” is the last track and another favorite of mine, a roller coaster musical experience with the verses, choruses, and bridge all bouncing off one another for over five and a half minutes, creating a wonderful, emotional, and complete sound.

The one area of Foster the People’s album that I’m not rejoicing over are the lyrics. This still continues to possess a mainstream pop feel for me. With an album that’s as creative and dimensional as this, I want every song to have the ironic nature of “Pumped Up Kicks,” rather than hearing on more than one track, the hardships of being different and being against labels. This to me is an obvious realization that I feel is fine if it’s written creatively, but not as black and white as it tends to be found here. I want lyrics to be a bit deeper, or weirder, than a lot of the songs are on Torches – only Max Bemis can get away with saying everyone sucks by blatantly sharing “I hate everyone.” Do you get a sense that I’m trying to fit them into this Indie Pop Rock context and they don’t necessarily want to be in? Don’t worry, I’ll keep trying to convince myself.

With every track, you hear Foster the People, but you are also getting different pieces of what they can offer and there is nothing “one-hit-wonder” about it. One concern would be not actually listening to the songs and just having it as background music. Torches is not powerful enough to continue to pull you back, and you have to make some effort to remember to actually listen – get to know the songs from beginning to end. Once you have done this a few times, you are then free to listen at any time, because you’ll already have the foundation laid for each song. I realize that a good album should not come with directions, but I think it’s worth every second because in the end you will be rewarded with having an album in your library that is creative, filled with a plethora of sounds and melodies, and is truly a fun listen.

ktcmgmt.com, killingthecabinet.com