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Foster the People


[Columbia Records; 2011]


Rating: 3.0/5

Styles: Indie-pop, electro-pop

Similar Artists: MGMT, Peter Bjorn and John, Neon Trees


I recently had the good fortune to spend a week in Los Angeles: the sun was a-shining, thespian hopefuls waited bars, and Foster the People were on every single radio station. Given that I was there in the middle of a sweltering summer, this was neither surprising nor unappreciated. After all, FTP’s breakaway single ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ features the sort of jaunty basslines and laidback delivery that 90% of summer-pop songs strive for. Who wants to listen to Tom Waits in the summer?

Fast-forward to their debut album Torches, and it’s fair to say that if you’re a fan of ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ then you’ll probably enjoy the rest of the album. The LA-natives ply their trade in the same sort of ephemeral pop music that catapulted Peter Bjorn and John and MGMT into the limelight: sharp pop hooks, crisp production, and just quirky enough to lure the cool kids in. I’ve never seen the band live, but the music alone conjures images of lithe twenty-somethings dancing in tie-dye shirts and denim cut-offs. As the chorus of ‘Waste’ exhorts: “every day that you want to waste, you can” – this is what summer holidays are made of.

And while most bands can cite other artists (or drug use) as musical influences, Foster the People’s front man Mark Foster boasts a resume writing commercial jingles for TV. This unfortunately, is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, tracks like ‘Call It What You Want’, ‘Waste’ and ‘Houdini’ are melodic, fun and perfect for summer listening. In fact, any of the 10 tracks on this album could easily soundtrack a commercial selling cars, sneakers, or … some sort of edgy dog food.

And therein lies the rub, because for all the light harmonies, jangly guitars and driving beats, Torches can sound like a 30-minute commercial. While the songs are pleasant enough individually, over the course of a 10-track album FTP rarely – if ever – break out of their self-constructed mould.

Ultimately the stuff is as essential to summer (or June holidays) as bleached jeans, long-boards and wayfarers. But without musical innovation or lyrical depth, Torches lacks any form of staying power. I’m chalking this one down as a summer fling and digging out the Tom Waits once the weather gets colder.

– Mark Cheng

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