Release Date: Mar 18, 2014
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop
When Foster the People released Torches in 2011, their fame quickly soared to its peak. “Pumped Up Kicks” played on every radio station, and as overplayed as it became, it was hard not to sing along. Since then, the indie-poppers have been hard at work writing more catchy, dance-infused songs...or so we assumed. But where Torches is playful, their long-awaited sophomore album Supermodel is heady, trading in electronics for guitars.
One of the hugest pop belters of recent years, Foster The People‘s Pumped Up Kicks made for an unlikely chart-botherer. Famously an anthem with dark, thought-provoking subtexts (teenage mental illness, gun violence and homicidal thoughts), it was propelled into the spotlight normally reserved for simple, airy-fairy ditties about heartbreak and getting blackout blotto. 2010 was a simpler time, and on the sheer gung-ho pop cojones, it excelled beyond onlookers’ wildest expectations, making Mark Foster, Cubbie Fink and Mark Pontius bona fide pop sensations along the way.
“I created a monster,” Mark Foster grimaced to NME in late January, hands clasped over his face in mock horror, reflecting on the pop smash that in 2011 turned him from a recovering addict churning out radio jingles for a living in downtown LA into a radio superstar in his own right. A sun-splashed indie earworm hiding a dark tale of a high school loser who guns down his classmates, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ sold over five million copies in the US alone, turning Foster The People into a household name, but a misunderstood one. “I think some people wrote us off as kinda throwaway just because that song was so popular.
Is forward always the right direction? If you’ve been a fan of Foster the People, that’s a question you’re going to be confronted with by Supermodel, their latest record. That’s because Supermodel is a quantum leap forward for the band from their smash-hit 2011 record Torches. Supermodel has to dwell in the mighty shadow of Torches, at least initially.
Prior to the breakthrough viral success of their 2010 single, "Pumped Up Kicks," Los Angeles' Foster the People were a relatively unknown studio project for singer/songwriter Mark Foster. Four years, a full-length debut album (2011's Torches), numerous tours, and two Grammy nominations later, Foster the People are a tested live act with a strong, expectant fan base. The band's 2014 sophomore album, Supermodel, finds Foster and company sticking to their winning pop formula, while evincing a more organic, less claustrophobic studio sound.
In the aftermath of Pumped Up Kicks, the naggingly cheerful sleeper hit that lifted his LA-based band from obscurity in 2011, Mark Foster spent three months in India and the Middle East clearing his head. He returned to make a second album that is more sonically ambitious than the first – instruments in the mix include a Buddhist prayer machine – with heavier subject matter. Foster may not be the subtlest lyricist ever to decry the excesses of western society, but his songwriting has filled out and, on the evidence of several tracks here, including Best Friend, he still knows how to craft a solid hook.
“Feels like a coming-of-age,” sings Mark Foster on his band’s massive-sounding new single, his springy tenor ricocheting off new-wave guitar blasts and arena-sized drums. Funny thing is, Foster the People never really had a coming-of-age: Re-tooled into a band from the jingle-writer frontman’s dead-end solo project, they found immediate success with their insanely catchy debut single, “Pumped Up Kicks,” a sort of slacker-hipster anthem for straight-A students. Then came the logical checklist: major label deal, huge debut album (2011’s genre-hopping Torches), world tours, and—inevitably—figuring out what the hell to do next.
In 2010, Foster the People released their breakthrough hit, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’. The song, written about a school shooting, quickly propelled them into the limelight and earned them a major label record deal. In 2011, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ was the sixth best-selling digital song of the year and, on the back of that success, debut album Torches performed very well indeed.
Foster The People’s Mark Foster has made it perfectly clear in the run-up to release that ‘Supermodel’ is “not the record that people are gonna expect”, and in that sense the band’s second full-length certainly delivers. The synthesised, catchy hooks devised by the former music jingle writer were the calling card of 2011’s ‘Torches’ but here, they’re few and far between. Similarly, while the globally chart-topping ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ was a song about teenage psychosis, there was no getting away from its light and breezy nature.By contrast, this is an album that has been ushered in with ‘Coming of Age’ as its single.
Foster the People sit in that awkward space between dance and pop; a chasm rarely crossed with credibility intact. They just about pulled it off back in 2011 with singles such as Pumped Up Kicks, and their new album, Supermodel, sees them attempt to fuse the two using Nile Rodgersesque guitar licks, plus nods to Afrobeat and psych, in an unwieldy piece of soldering. At times, they pull it off, producing a kind of MGMT-lite brand of loosely psychedelic dance-pop – with titles such as Pseudologia Fantastica – drenched in dreamy falsetto.
Three years ago, Foster the People scored a smash single by being carpetbaggers of cool. "Pumped Up Kicks" borrowed the affects of that era's rising hipster middlebrow – Animal Collective's dreamy nostalgia, Vampire Weekend's taut melodies and the reverb-y textures of the then-trendy chillwave subgenre – and combined them with the beaming melodies of singer Mark Foster, whose day job was literally writing jingles for Honey Bunches of Oats. So it's not exactly shocking that there's barely an original thought on their second album.
Foster the People asks a simple question via the title of the first track on their new album, Supermodel: “Are You What You Want to Be?” Whether it's a bit of provocation for critics, an earnest plea to the listener, or a question turned inward is anybody's guess, because the music certainly doesn't provide a satisfying answer. The track is the usual toothless cod-indie electro-pop casserole that's become de rigeur in the post-Spotify world—a little Arcade Fire here, a lot of Vampire Weekend there, a bit of Fun, and nothing that signals a sense of purpose beyond the commercial imperative for new product. You have to tour behind something new, even if “new” has air quotes around it roughly the size of Dodger Stadium.
It was easy to be cynical when Foster the People broke through with “Pumped Up Kicks”. Frontman/mastermind Mark Foster had, in fact, been working as a jingle writer for a while, so connecting the dots between soulless commercialism and the almost too-perfect indie pop wasn’t challenging. Foster himself didn’t shy away from that link: “I definitely learned from the commercial standpoint what works,” he told Rolling Stone in June 2011.
Foster The People garnered such astronomical success with its debut, the chockfull of goodness Torches, heralded by the ubiquitous “Pumped Up Kicks,” that expectations for its follow-up, Supermodel, are high—perhaps too high. To meet these expectations the trio brought back hit-making producer Paul Epworth (Adele, Bruno Mars, Rihanna), who worked on two tracks from Torches, to shepherd Supermodel. Supermodel differs from its predecessor in more than a few ways.
Modern mainstream rock is thankless work, an ouroboros of familiar ideas that is notable mainly for managing not to atrophy into total disappearance. It is a space of diminished influence and relevance, a haven for the dull and complacent. Which is why, when something of note happens in that world ….
When Foster the People had a sleeper hit in 2011 with “Pumped Up Kicks,” buoyed by a sly chorus that felt like the Killers popping Quaaludes with M83, an interesting detail emerged about the band’s frontman. Mark Foster had once worked as a songwriter for hire, penning hummable jingles to be sold for commercials. Three years later, with the release of Foster the People’s new sophomore album, that fact could not be more evident.
Foster the People Supermodel (Columbia) Foster the People's debut, Torches, heated up summer 2011 with sinister sunniness on "Pumped Up Kicks," followed by the cheery aggression of "Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)," commercial tunes masking darker themes. The Los Angeles trio's sophomore Supermodel again finds frontman Mark Foster assuming the role of charismatic young anarchist casting about for someone to share his disaffection. Opener "Are You What You Want to Be?" wrestles with whether to "[say] too much and [end] a martyr" or "to face God and say I was a coward," as backed by high-voltage, vaguely South American beats.
“Supermodel”Foster the People(Columbia Records)3 Stars It’s not every band that could sell 5 million copies of a song about a horrific school shooting — told from the killer’s point of view, no less.. Yes, somehow indie-rock band Foster the People took a Columbine-style scenario to the ….
Fame fame fatal fame. It can play hideous tricks on the brain; while Foster the People got more than a taste of it with their 2011 debut Torches, their follow up record Supermodel is concerned with their disillusions of success in the music industry. “Is this the life you’ve been waiting for?” the band sing on “Ask Yourself”; rock stardom, as it turns out, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.