Foster The People – Torches (2011)

Going back a couple of years for this little review of Foster the People’s debut ‘Torches’. Originally written due to speculation of an upcoming release that eventually happened in March and will also be reviewed.  The review was left in ‘drafting hell’ for a while until I eventually finished it early this week. Anyway, let’s get on with the album.

To give some context, Foster the People is the release name of Mark Foster’s written material and eventually after recruiting some friends has become the name of the band. Torches was primarily performed and written solely by Mark Foster and in some ways is an exceptionally individual record. Previously working as a jingle writer for radio, Mark Foster eventually collected these songs and put them together for the album. After getting some exposure with Pumped Up Kicks gaining support from Paul Epworth, Epworth and Foster worked to produce Torches.

‘Helena Beat’ opens with processed and tight drums, before going into a brief tape delayed effect. In come the mid bass/synth tones that have become more favourable in the last 3 years. Mark Foster’s falsetto sits on top of the mix, and by the chorus become a chorus in itself with quite a bit of reverb, again quite favourable at the moment. Whilst the opening track doesn’t sound too distinct and unlike a lot of other acts (like Foals  or MGMT for example), there is something a little ‘unordinary’ in it too. The lyrics are often indecipherable at first listen, and it should be noted they aren’t anything particularly inspired, treading common themes with somewhat clichéd phrases.

‘Pumped up Kicks’ is the lead single and a song so engrained in any mind if they have turned on the television or radio recently in the last 3 years, because it was an unescapable tune. To sum it up, it is a great single and that stabbing bass hook is going to last a lifetime. ‘Call it What You Want’ starts with a mix of electronics and sampled beatboxing, and inchoate effects. It is a great song, and keeps the pace of the album well but does little else for the sense.

‘Don’t Stop’ is primarily a guitar pop song and somehow evokes imagery of Little Big Planet, maybe it was on the soundtrack. Anyway, it is driven by its simplistic chugging riffs over the electric and acoustic guitar as Mr Foster delivers a set of simple slightly childlike lyrics, nevertheless I suspect this is the point of the song. From the perspective of a child growing up, as evident from the first line ‘Walk little walk, small talk; big thoughts.’ Or maybe it is about Mark’s self awareness of trying to say something that is in your head but failing to express it as fluently as he’d like, like a child feels. I’m sure we all can relate to that. Also I could be looking too far into this so moving onto…

‘Waste’, is probably my second favourite due to its cut and paste style and walking bass line, that is almost a pure tone. It feels almost like an old Megaman or Sonic the Hedgehog level and you can’t help but wonder if we have truly come full circle from Japananese pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra, to the game music in the early 90s, influencing the music of today. The biggest criticisms is it ends rather shortly and abruptly.

I would do anything for you  whereas ‘Houdini’ follows with its Baba O’Reily staccato pianos. The chorus is interesting to because of the modulating chords, throwing in a wild minor 6th chord instead of the major chord in the key of the song.

‘Miss You’ culminates in wonderful over driven drums and gated chords, however the album version is easily surpassed by the live version From the Basement. It places much more focus on the expansive piano and Mark’s vocal performance is honest, wary, tender. The album version stripped this touch and what could easily be the best song on the album is a tad over produced and robotic.

‘Warrant’ starts with synth choir before it arrives in a swinging tom filled drum stomp. The choir lingers and freezes as the rock heavy thick bass and piano keep the song together for the verse. As a closer it works well by combining lots of the elements that made up the success of the album. From catchy thumbing bass, larger than live drums, frozen synths and pads, piano forte, enticing chorus hooks and harmonies, light distortion and some upbeat nonsensical lyrics.

The album is fairly inoffensive musically. It curtails between beautifully catchy radio friendly pop, and slightly intriguing production. What it shows most of all is promise and a bright future for Mark Foster and the group. Whilst it does not feature much in the way of heavy emotional tussles, it does adhere respectfully as an individual album crafted for a group of people born with headphones attached to their navel. I’m excited for their next album, and think it is an album that could still be as musically appropriate (uhh horrible word choice) in several years time, where as some other recent albums wouldn’t. The album does suffer from one unfortunate downside that occurs on most debuts, the obvious single out the bunch that can cause ear worm for days. But if you look a little closer you do find other key moments that show where the album is better than Pumped Up Kicks.

Review of the groups second album, Supermodel, will follow shortly – however will it live up to the expectations the first album has created?