[Album Review] Foster the People - "Torches"
Upon first listening to Foster the People, you could easily mistake their laid back falsetto vocals and '80s synthpop influence for the likes of MGMT or Passion Pit, but make no mistake, this Los Angeles trio have made themselves known. Having only formed in October 2009, the band has gone from no names to celebrated up-and-comers in less than a year and a half. The band's performances at SXSW and Coachella brought them to the full attention of the blogosphere, and since then, they haven't stopped. Last year they released the incredible lead single "Pumped Up Kicks," followed by the Foster the People EP nearly a year later, and just last week the band dropped their highly anticipated debut LP Torches. The Foster the People EP showed immense promise, with "Pumped Up Kicks," "Helena Beat," and "Houdini" giving us the sense that the trio can, in fact, provide consistent hits. Now that Torches is here, does it live up to the hype that has surrounded these L.A. natives for the past year and a half?
In short, yes and no. The album starts on a strong point with "Helena Beat," a synth-heavy summer anthem that will flood the headphones of indie pop lovers everywhere. If you are reading this than there's no question that you've heard "Pumped Up Kicks," the song that put Foster the People on the map. The track is catchy, there's no question about that, with slick basslines, dark lyrics, and chorus that you can't help but sing along to. "Call It What You Want" continues to build on the strong pace established with album opener "Helena Beat," delivering a funky, piano-driven track that also shows the range of frontman Mark Foster's vocals.
Many of the songs on the album keep within consistent boundaries, ranging from fun, summer-esque anthems, to darker, more moody tracks, all the while sounding similar. "Color On The Wall (Don't Stop)" is simply an upbeat and fun track that is fitting with the warming weather and cheerful disposition of people this time of year, while tracks such as "Waste" are lyrically dark but are consistent with the strong vocals, solid basslines, and catchy choruses you'll find throughout the album. Other tracks, such as "Houdini" and album closer "Warrant,"continue Foster the People's consistent trend of creating catchy, piano-driven anthems that will crowd your summer playlist.
Consistency: this is the album's strength and weakness. While most of the album remains solidly consistent, there are a couple of tracks that stray from the working formula and take away from what would otherwise be an amazing debut. "Miss You" is a muddled mess, with Foster's vocals, which come off as shrill and whiney on this particular track, being drowned out by an overpowering combination of scratchy drum kicks, synth stabs and percussion. "Life On The Nickel" is another track that strays a little too far from the pack, with the combination of unflattering synth effects and Foster's weakest vocal performance of the entire album creating an oddly-paced and overall weak song.
While Torches doesn't meet the insane hype that has surrounded Foster the People, it still remains to be a very solid debut. The album shows that the trio are capable of creating numerous catchy, danceable anthems and hits, but they are still a young band that has a lot to learn. The consistency that you will find on eight of the album's ten tracks are more than enough to make Torches a constant repeat, but "Miss You" and "Life On The Nickel" take away from an otherwise great experience. While experimentation is always a good thing in music, there are times when it goes poorly, and for a band as new as Foster the People it wasn't the best choice. Maybe they can try something new on their next LP, but this time around, the electropop formula they've established over the past year or so has worked well so far. If it ain't broke don't fix it.