We’ve heard it before, a songwriter heads for LA and churns out an album’s worth of sunny pop. What is less heard though is a heart of darkness and this seems to be the inspiration for Mark Foster whose band Foster The People have produced a record which – at the very least – forms an interesting discussion point.
On the face of it, ‘Torches’ is a soundtrack to teenage dreams with all the attendant sugar rushes on display. Yet look beneath the surface and the dream is characterised by angst and paranoia. For the superb opener ‘Helena Beat’, Foster’s cheery tones can clearly be heard singing “I tie my hands up to a chair so I don’t fall that way” on its high energy chorus. The subject matter moves from suicide to mass murder for ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ whose key lyric is “You better run, better run, faster than my bullet”. As a double salvo, in both a musical and cerebral sense, the impact is hard to beat.
The unfortunate drawback is a few of the tunes are so chart-friendly they can end up sounding disposable. Foster’s falsetto is so saccharine for ‘Don’t Stop’, it sounds like the kind of teen pop S Club 7 might have turned out. Furthermore, the kitchen sink production accompanying ‘Life On The Nickel’ and ‘Miss You’ could do with being sligtly less beat-heavy.
Thankfully Foster keeps a good balance on the remainder of the record. ‘I Would Do Anything For You’ boasts an “Ooh la la” chorus but the tune is top notch whilst ‘Houdini’ and ‘Warrant’ may slam down the big beats and euphoria in equal measure but the message of the songs’ need for escape is always apparent.
Foster The People offer an alternative view of sugary pop; one which balances the summery optimism of The New Radicals and the 80’s dreams of M83 with some frankly nightmarish lyrical matter. One can imagine troubled teens finding solace in this record but at least half of it is deep enough to appeal to an older audience too.
Foster The People Official Site
New Radicals, M83, Delphic