Sunday, January 29, 2012

Light the torches

Foster the People had what some might call the "party jam of the summer" last year with "Pumped up Kicks".  Are the lyrics dark?  Sure.  But the history of all music is littered with songs that work from the "disturbing/dark lyrics masked by catchy sunshine-pop beats" template for their songs, so it's hardly shocking - and still at the end of the day, it's only music.

Their full-length debut "Torches" starts off with the low-key burner "Helena Beat" - which is an appealing musical combo-pack - synths, hypnotic drum loops, and vocal harmonizing that apes (among other things) the beach boys, oddly enough.  For all it sounds like a "found-sounds collage track", it's a fine opener to the disc.  Next up is the aforementioned been-heard-too-many-times "Pumped up Kicks" - moving on to "Call It What You Want" and by this point, the intent of this group is clear - mid-tempo goofy/party rave-ups.  "I'm gonna kick until I need new shoes" is just one example of nonsensical lyrics that crop up throughout the disc.  They occasionally hew a little more to the serious side ("Waste" and "I Would Do Anything For You" have a certain poignancy to balance out the overly frothy mood of this disc).

Heading into the last half of this disc "Houdini" continues to evoke snatches of other bands - uneasy-but-confident party jam meets Scissor Sisters/Bee Gees falsettos and a beat that certainly does pull off a nice magic trick in the sticks-in-your-head for days department.  The last 3 tracks are still built in line with the feel of the album overall, but are weaker than all that came before.  The musical reference cuisinart approach feels a bit over-cluttered on "Life on the Nickel", and "Miss You" is just too insistent, and then quiet and moody, then too insistent again - a song that can't seem to make its mind up.
"Warrant" pulls off an unintentional hat trick as they sing "Got to get away, yeah the warrant's on my head / Got to get away, they want me alive or dead" - it almost sounds like a tacit acknowledgment of all the flack they expect to catch over things like the lyrics for "Pumped Up Kicks".  Whether it is or not, it lifts up the otherwise weak final 3 somewhat.

Foster The People have the potential to be an interesting band - the debut shows signs of skilled pop-music cuisinart tunecraft that, when they work, lead to guilty-pleasure electro-pop confections that are hard to resist.  Time will tell if album 2 irons out the rough patches.  For now, "Torches" offers an enjoyable, if uneven, slice of electro-dance-rock confectionery delight.

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