Foster the People - Supermodel Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.18.2014
Indie rock band Foster the People try to follow up on the breakout success of their first LP with Supermodel! But are they able to capture the magic of "Pumped Up Kicks" a second time? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
1. "Are You What You Want to Be?" (4:30)
2. "Ask Yourself" (4:23)
3. "Coming of Age" (4:40)
4. "Nevermind" (5:17)
5. "Pseudologia Fantastica" (5:31)
6. "The Angelic Welcome of Mr. Jones" (0:33)
7. "Best Friend" (4:27)
8. "A Beginner's Guide to Destroying the Moon" (4:39)
9. "Goats in Trees" (5:09)
10. "The Truth" (4:29)
11. "Fire Escape" (4:22)
With the rise of indie rock to a prominent position in the field of popular music, the genre has seen an infusion of bands that blend healthy doses of pop into their sound. Acts like fun., A Great Big World and Fitz and The Tantrums have all made various splashes onto mainstream airplay with success and in doing so have added a mellow, hook-laden sensibility to indie rock. One of the bands spearheading that trend is Foster the People. The Los Angeles-based trio, headed by frontman Mark Foster, rocketed to stardom in 2010 when their subversive viral hit "Pumped Up Kicks" earned them a record deal. Torches was released in 2011 and with hits like the aforementioned "Kicks," "Helena Beat" and "Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)" the group became a bonafide Grammy-nominated star pop group. It's been close to two years since we've heard a new song by the group on the radio and during that time they've been hard at work at a follow-up in the hopes that they can avoid the sophomore curse that comes from being a debut album phenomenon. That second LP, Supermodel, hits stores today.
One of the most difficult things about making it in the music industry is attempting to recapture that sense of lightning in a bottle. While Torches had several very good tracks, their biggest hit was undoubtedly "Pumped Up Kicks." The band finds itself in a bit of a catch-22; if they try to just create another song just like that one, they're selling out. If they go in a different direction then they risk alienating the fanbase who, frankly want them to sell out a bit. For Supermodel, Foster and company decide to hem closer to the safe route and include a lot of elements of Torches. The band's indietronica sound is in full force from the first track, but they don't just rely on the kitschy-catchy hooks and metallic ring that you heard so often on their first LP. Make no mistake; they still aim for catchy and the opening moments of "Are You What You Want to Be?" is the kind of memorable, fade-in opening that will stick in your cranium. But it sounds a little different and when the song breaks into the first verse it's quite distinct. Foster affects a bit of an accent in this Afrobeat-inspired number that conjures up comparisons to Vampire Weekend. The lyrics speak to globalized anarchism, continuing the band's trend of putting light-hearted pop tunes with weightier, sometimes sinister topics. The sound doesn't come off as wholly original but the song is a toe-tapper that lets the message sink in, so it accomplishes what it's trying to.
As soon as that opening track is fading away, we're into the next song. "Ask Yourself" contains the hand claps and acoustic strumming underneath a wall of sound that we've come to expect from this genre while Foster waxes philosophical about dissatisfaction with materialism and the status quo. "You say that dreamers always get what they desire," he croons. "But I've found the more I want, the less I've got." It's one of the better tracks on the LP and provides an early high point. "Coming of Age" sounds more like what people will be familiar with from this band, with dulcet pop tones backing Foster's reflection on the band's success: "It feels like, feels like it's coming of age." These two provide a great one-two punch to drive the album forward.
Just when you think you have the album's sound figured out, the band switches gears to a melodic, slowed-down number in "Nevermind." Acoustic guitar and gentle drumming give this one a moody spin, but the switch in gears is a bit jarring and while it sounds fine on its own it doesn't make for a solid mid-album transition. Things pick back up on the next track, with "Pseudologia Fantastica" taking an airy, somewhat psychedelic sound. It's very Oasis by way of My Bloody Valentine, and in this case that's a good thing. The obligatory (and unnecessarily) interlude comes next before we're right back into the standard FtP sound on "Best Friend." This is another dark number, about a friend with a drug addiction, with an upbeat melody and bumpy beat. It's the album's "Pumped Up Kicks" and, unsurprisingly, is the latest single from the album.
Obviously by the descriptions above, the band seems to have tried to mix in their known sound with some experimental elements and sometimes it works. Other times, like the unwieldy-titled "A Beginner's Guide to Destroying the Moon," it doesn't work so well. The track's production goes heavy on reverb and tries to sound grungier, but instead it just sounds unfinished. The stripped-down "Goats in Trees" falls flat as well; the group hasn't quite figured out how to handle those tonal shifts well. By the time you get to "The Truth," Foster seems tired and he's not the only one. Supermodel just kind of peters out, though the final track is a true acoustic number titled "Fire Escape" that shows a tantalizing view of what they can accomplish when really inspired.
Skippable: "Nevermind," "A Beginner's Guide to Destroying the Moon," "Goats in Trees"
The 411: Foster the People's second LP Supermodel tries to accomplish the dual task of keeping loyal fans roped in while bringing in new ones with shifts in sound. It accomplishes the first far better than the second. When the band sticks to what it knows best the album soars, while diversions into different avenues of sound are far less successful. The end result is an underwhelming overall mix. There will be enough singles to drive radio play and push sales as high as their label could want, but as a whole album Supermodel is well named: pretty to look at but as shallow as a glossy photo shoot.