Indie band Foster the People may find it hard to top the success of its first single, but today’s release of the band’s sophomore album, “Supermodel,” offers 12 tracks that sound like an expansion of the band’s established sound.
Formed in Los Angeles circa 2009 and signed to label Startime International (a subsidiary of Columbia Records), Foster the People trailed the success of its first single, “Pumped Up Kicks,” with an equally catchy and promising debut album, “Torches.”
Vocalist, self-producer and lyricist Mark Foster first posted the song online in 2010 as a free download, inadvertently gathering the attention of music industry executives and securing the band a future record deal. Its dark themes were overshadowed by its weirdly infectious beat and eventually peaked at No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Pumped Up Kicks” was one of the most recognizable, covered and overplayed songs of 2011. It was stuck in everybody’s head and was inching the band into one-hit wonder territory. But most of the tracks on “Torches” were even better than the band’s hit single.
Bassist Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius released a series of YouTube videos promoting and exploring the creative process behind “Supermodel” in which Foster explains, “I didn’t expect this record to end up being as heavy as it did…as guitar-driven,” and it certainly is. Where the first album relied on synthesizers and keyboards, the second album opens many of its songs with subtle guitar hooks.
“Are You What You Want to Be” is not the opener one would expect after listening to the recently released single, “Coming of Age,” but it certainly prepares for an album that changes pace from track to track. Foster’s voice has the tendency to teeter between pleasantly catchy and annoyingly high, making the opening track sound like a leftover from the first album.
“Ask Yourself” starts off slower with self-reflective lyrics, but it is one of the album’s least memorable songs.
“Coming of Age” is fresh and relatable, and Foster’s voice sounds stronger than ever over a great guitar hook: “Well I see you standing there like a rabid dog/And you got those crying eyes/Makes me wanna surrender and wrap you in my arms/You know I try to live without regrets/I’m always looking forward and not looking back.” Foster is self-reflective throughout the album he explains is all about “living in a supermodel culture.”
“Nevermind” begins pensively; Foster sings quietly until the rest of the band chips in during the chorus. Another forgettable tune, even as it spins into a jumbled ending.
“Pseudologia Fantastica,” the fifth track on the record, is the most innovative thus far. It has a faintly Magical Mystery Tour-like quality, and while it’s not exactly danceable, its psychedelic melody makes it one of the best on the album. Foster is beginning to sound very much like Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters fame.
“The Angelic Welcome of Mr. Jones” is a 33-second interlude of angelic-sounding harmonizing as its title suggests.
“Best Friend” is a groovy, danceable track, its lyrics vaguely alluding to drug use and the ties that bind friendships. Foster has a knack for creative titles, like “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon.” This song features the band playing with instrumentation and layering, packing in what sounds like three songs into one.
“Goats in Trees” slows the pace down again as Foster sings “Well please to meet you/excuse my hand/I’ve been bitten by an enemy that’s pretended to be my friend” in significantly deeper tones, exploring the high and low capabilities of his voice.
“The Truth” is similar to “Beginner’s Guide,” blending too many conflicting sounds into a lengthy track about an elusive personal and universal truth – the stuff that worries most songwriters – but the song lacks emotional impact and feels more like a sensory overload.
“Fire Escape” is the third near-acoustic track on the album. Foster explained that the song was inspired by the view from the fire escape of his old LA apartment building. “Looking through the eyes of what that building had seen over the last hundred years…” and thinking about “what the city was built on” in relation to his personal growth while living there.
The album closes with “Tabloid Super Junky,” a six-minute song similar to “Pseudologia Fantastica.” Overall, “Supermodel” offers a few tracks that are energizing without being overwhelming.
Foster’s voice has never been the band’s strongest point, but it’s held up by a catchy blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation and lyrical hooks. It nevertheless sounds much more confident and dynamic on this record.
“Supermodel” is unmistakably a Foster the People album even as it attempts to deviate from “Torches,” which is, for a debut, still its best work.