ALBUM REVIEW: Foster the People - Torches

After a much-loved, summer appropriate EP, Full Album Stream.

C | 5.23.11 | Columbia | Mog | Stream | Amazon | Insound

Foster The People - "I Would Do Anything For You"

“Pumped Up Kicks” came out a year ago. For almost everyone who follows the blogosphere, that song helped define a summer, and it’s echoes are still reverberating around the music world. What felt like an eternity later, the Foster The People EP came out with the promise of an album on its heels. If anything, the EP proved, more than “Pumped Up Kicks” on its own, that Foster The People are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to writing a hit. Part MGMT without the overpowering weirdness, part 80’s synth-pop revival in the best way possible, the EP was 100% gold and held a wealth of promise. Now Torches is here and we have to evaluate whether the invincible L.A. band can keep the streak going.

The short answer is no. The three songs from the EP are still the best-crafted songs on the album. There are no grave missteps here, none of the tracks fall flat, but ultimately Foster The People can’t sustain greatness for more than 3 songs. Torches is very, very good indie-pop, but it doesn’t extend much past that.

Some of the tracks here do live up to their predecessors. “I Would Do Anything For You” boasts the biggest chorus from the band to date, which is already a formidable statement. Album closer “Warrant” almost reaches anthem status with a bold, catchy focal point of a piano line. However, like many of the other songs on Torches, it doesn’t elevate itself past pleasant or fun listening.

Part of the problem comes from lead singer Mark Foster’s easygoing falsetto. The lyrics here fade into the background, just another aspect in the catchy songs. I find myself, more often than not, singing along to the infectious melodies. However, the subject matter that those melodies represent just slip under the surface. You can sing along, but chances are you have no real idea what the words are. Things are worse when Foster attempts to step into the role of a lead singer, as he does briefly on “Life On The Nickel.” He throws in some emotion and verve into his delivery and it ends up coming off badly, almost cheesy and distracting from the cool reserve he maintains throughout the rest of the album.

It’s interesting to note that the only track from the EP that has its style repeated with any consistency is “Houdini.” “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Helena Beat” are, ultimately, anomalies. Stuttered vocal samples and piano hooks are the repeated sonic motifs, taking a disco influence from the electronic world more than the funk and electro suggested by Torches’ lead singles.

Some songs, especially “Don’t Stop,” feel like they were written to soundtrack commercials rather than real life or dance parties. This album, while perfect for summer listening and a brand of indie music that is poised to break into the mainstream, fails to offer much as a work of music past the auditory pleasure of unfailingly catchy hooks and undeniably cool atmospheres – which is no small feat on its own. Foster The People live up to the hype, but only on a visceral level. If you were hoping for more it’s just not there.