Foster the People - Supermodel
If you liked "Torches," prepare for disappointment
It would have been difficult to discuss indie music in 2011 without at least mentioning Foster the People. Their debut Torches from this year made many “best of” lists, including a high slot on my own, and even if you disliked the album you still probably heard it at some point. This is because their hit single “Pumped Up Kicks” was everywhere in 2011 (and well into 2012), receiving airplay on both indie and pop radio stations. It was a mellow, dreamy-sounding, Blur-esque indie rock song with lyrics about a kid killing a bunch of people, and somehow or another this formula propelled the band to success. However, it also had the distinction of sounding nothing like the rest of the album, as most of Torches was electronic based dance music with keyboards that made it sound straight out of the 90s. While I grew sick of “Pumped Up Kicks” after hearing it on the radio well into the triple digits, the rest of the album was really what drew me to the band, and I hoped they would expand upon this sound on whatever they came out with next.
As it turns out, “expanding this sound” isn’t really what Foster the People had in mind. By this, I mean that Supermodel sounds almost nothing like Torches. There’s only a few songs that have any sort of dance quality to them, electronic influences are vastly scaled down, and the 90s-sounding keyboards are barely there. There’s more straightforward rock and vocalist Mark Foster has a more serious tone to his voice, but not in the way that any of the songs sound like “Pumped Up Kicks.” It’s a lot more guitar driven, and is definitely much more eclectic than Torches. It’s also not nearly as memorable.
Foster the People namedropped quite the range of influences leading up to the release of the album, including David Bowie, the Kinks, and West African music. With a very 90s-influenced debut, you can either think “wow, they’re going in so many new directions!” or “sounds like they’re having an identity crisis.” Turns out, Supermodel is more the latter. Take the West African Music influence for instance – it appears mostly on the first track “Are You What You Want To Be?” and bears some resemblance to Vampire Weekend. You don’t really hear it elsewhere, as the next few tracks go between sounding like Phoenix and Coldplay. Then towards the end of the album, you have two acoustic tracks. The first “Goats In Trees” has a psychedelic folk sound, while the second (and album closer) “Fire Escape” sounds like every slow, sincere acoustic song shoehorned into a faster-tempo album ever. There’s also track “The Truth” with a chorus that reminds me of The Antlers. The songs are incredibly diverse, but in the sense that Foster the People weren’t terribly sure what they were going for, only knowing they didn’t want a repeat of Torches. And if the styles alone don’t give this away, realize that the chorus of the first track is “are you where you want to be?,” the chorus of the second track is “well ask yourself – is this the life you’ve been waiting for” and the chorus of the third track is “feels like a coming of age.” There’s a motif of introspection, and it really does seem like the band is hesitantly contemplating what they’re doing on each song.
There is a high point of the album though, and that is its middle section where you find its two best tracks. “Pseudologia Fantastica” features a dazzling synthesizer part that makes it sound like a cross between Passion Pit and MGMT, complete with Foster frequently singing in falsetto as these bands are known to do. The psychedelic outro is also a really nice touch. “Best Friend” is the most Torches-esque track on Supermodel, and is easily the most dancey. Despite its lyrical content, the chorus of “when you’re best friend’s all strung out” might be the catchiest part of the album and its sunny tone reminds me of disco-inspired electronic group Miami Horror. The song also has a great bassline and even a horn section to make it stand out as THE dance song on the album. I know that I mentioned some other band comparisons here, but these two songs really do sound the most like what I was expecting from a Foster the People album. And it’s not just expectations that make me appreciate them – the band knows it can do these style well plays them with confidence.
Fans of Supermodel will probably praise its new directions, and you can be sure that the word “mature” will be tossed around. In this view, Torches was catchy, pop-infused, and frankly kind of simple. Now Foster the People are playing more sounds and styles, away from radio-friendly synthpop, with deeper lyrics. Yet taking a step back, these are still highly produced pop songs filled with hooks and Foster’s “ooohs.” They’re not terrible songs (except “Fire Escape”), nor are they so great that you will think “This, THIS is what Foster the People should have done all along.” It also doesn’t help that the two major standout tracks are more electronic-based and will have you forgetting all about “maturity.” Foster the People may have been trying to reinvent themselves with Supermodel, but it’s not exactly a sophisticated reinvention nor is it a confident one.
Tags: foster the people, supermodel