Foster the People - Torches
Record Label: Columbia
Release Date: May 24, 2011
So by now, given its chart success, you've probably heard "Pumped Up Kicks", the lead single from Foster the People's debut LP Torches, and I'd be willing to bet that either you love it or it annoys the living shit out of you. I could say something like, "the band couldn't have chosen a better single," because not only is it catchy-as-balls, it's a representative entry point to their music as a whole. I won't though, because really, they could have selected just about any track from the album, because any one of them would make a fittingly hook-filled introduction to the L.A.-based trio. In other words, "Pumped Up Kicks" is no one-hit wonder; Torches is wall-to-wall radio-ready candy. If "Kicks" is the type of tune that has you springing for the repeat button, you will warm up quite nicely to the record as a whole; if you swear to God someone's going to pay for it if you have to listen to that whistled bridge one more time, you'll want to avoid this disc at all costs. It's as simple as that, really.
I happen to fall in the former group, as Torches has sunk its teeth in and has me mindlessly head-bobbing along with its relentlessly perky beat. It seems sort of single-minded in its pursuit of sugar-coated melodies-- as much so as anything since The Kooks' last album, another polarizing release-- but it's remarkably successful in achieving its aims, and sounds much like what I suppose casual MGMT fans were hoping Congratulations was going to sound like. Despite it's perpetual chirpiness, the record isn't exactly as light as it might seem on the surface. The opener "Helena Beat" seems to hint at the meaninglessness and emptiness of the party scene, though the irony is that, unless you're looking to please a hip-hop or country crowd, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better party soundtrack than Torches. And of course, "Pumped Up Kicks" conjures up images of exacting revenge on trend-hopping posers, but again, with this set of ten electro-pop confections, Foster the People seem like quite the bunch of bandwagon jumpers themselves. Are these tongue-in-cheek jokes or actual commentary disguised as slick pop jingles? Who knows? Fuck it, who cares? As they themselves sing, "Call it what you want."
Because the way I see Torches, it's not so much music as a vehicle to convey their message, but more so just fun music for the sake of fun music, and well, you have to have lyrics, don't you? It's more than satisfactory that they don't embarass themselves with overcooked cheese, because they excel at pretty much every other aspect of the game, though by now, the rules of this game are admittedly well-established, laid out by the likes of the aforementioned MGMT and Passion Pit. The sunshiny harmonies of Mark Foster and bandmates continuously dare you not to sing, or at least hum, along, and it takes a much harder heart than mine not to oblige. I feel to a degree that my critical side should discredit Torches as being too calculated, too pitch-perfect for its own good, and a case of picking up a fumbled football and running it into the end zone. And I don't know, perhaps it is. What I do know is that after the closing notes of "Warrant", my hand is as quick as Robert's reaching for the Play button.