The LA band put 'Pumped Up Kicks' behind them on an impressively noir second LP
“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. Like pop music can’t be sophisticated, like it can’t also say something.”
Album number two from the 30-year-old and his LA band takes no such chances, dialling back the sunny subtlety of debut album ‘Torches’ for something bolder and impressively noir. Lead single ‘Coming Of Age’, pitting cooing Beach Boys harmonies against echoing synths, embodies it best; its title not just a snappy track name but also a statement. ‘Supermodel’ is the work of a more mature Foster The People, expanding their sound to West African afrobeat vibes (on stomping TV On The Radio-ish opener ‘Are You What You Want To Be?’) and even psychedelic, shoegazy wig-outs on the adventurous ‘Pseudologia Fantasy’, which descends into white-noise chaos. There’s even a cloud rap moment, layering fuzzy guitars over a spacey beat borrowed from A$AP Rocky’s Clams Casino-produced ‘LVL’ on ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Destroying The Moon’.
Album centerpiece ‘Best Friend’ is the album at its lusty, liberated best, threading NERD bass, Chic guitars and Bee Gees falsettos into a narcotic memoir of Foster’s early years in LA, descending into hedonistic madness as an escape from the drudgery of modern life (“Sometimes I swear I only dream in black and white”). Paul Epworth and Mark Foster’s production is full of vivid colours, flair and invention, but ‘Supermodel’ sadly isn’t all so much fun – true to its title, and indeed the vapid Hollywood life Foster writes about, its surface beauty sometimes can’t mask the feeling of emptiness inherent in the weaker end of the record. Case in point: ‘The Truth’, which despite interesting agitated electronic rumbles and bassy trap booms feels like a MGMT B-side ballad. Then there’s ‘Fire Escape’, whose campfire acoustic guitars, twee glockenspiels and sing-along chorus reaches gag-worthy levels of syrup: “I see the seasons change/All the young faces come and replace the dying ones”.
‘Supermodel’ has no “monster”, as Foster would put it – no track with the blockbuster immediacy of ‘Pumped Up Kicks’. Instead it’s a collection of snapshots of a band stretching towards a brilliantly kaleidoscopic, eclectic new sound – and almost reaching it.