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Album Review: Foster The People ‘Torches’

Every so often you come across an album that you know you are going to adore before you even listen to it. Foster The People’s debut record ‘Torches’ is one of these albums. Partly, that’s because we’ve already heard nearly half of the album on their self-titled EP. Mostly however, it’s because this is a band simply incapable of writing a bad song and whose music is oozing with so much charisma, polish, skill, and- well- coolness, that not to love it would take a serious and concentrated effort.

So let’s get the familiar out of the way first. Opening track Helena Beat has been overplayed like crazy here in Australia for the last few months, but it’s for a good reason: this is an insanely catchy and instantly danceable number that is so polished it shines. It’s a very slick opening to the record, but Pumped Up Kicks, the band’s most well-known song, deviates from this significantly with a more lofi vibe that caries the summer anthem about youth homicide that has become my most played song on iTunes. You don’t need me to tell you that the juxtaposition between the chilled nature of the song and the very dark lyrics is enthralling, or that this is a flawless song: you’ve heard it all before.

But, as immediately becomes obvious, Pumped Up Kicks is somewhat of a glitch in the matrix in terms of Foster The People’s songwriting. The majority of the album leans far more towards polished and slick dance music than it does towards the more lofi feel of Pumped Up Kicks, and it will come as no surprise if more casual fans of the band find this slightly off-putting. Don’t let it concern you though- this is a band that do dance music superbly well, and you don’t need to look any further than the supremely cool Houdini, which was was also featured on the band’s aforementioned EP, for proof of this. 

Even the songs that we haven’t heard in studio form will be familiar to those who have seen Foster The People live. If you were expecting many surprises from ‘Torhces’ then you may be disappointed, but in reality the band would be crazy to try any curveballs here. They stick to their tried and tested music, which is an indicator of the fact that this album has been in the works for a long time. This is reflected in the confidence and cohesiveness of ‘Torches’, to an extent almost unheard of in a debut record.

I feel like calling any song a ‘standout’ would be doing the album a disservice. There is no such thing as a standout on an album this strong; on a record so consistent and without weak numbers. Call It What You Want takes a rhythm similar to that of Helena Beat and pumps it with a keyboard riff and the cry of “We’ve got nothing to prove… Just call it what you want”, which makes a lot of sense in the context of the hype surrounding this release. I remember hearing Waste live and thinking that it was a song to watch for in studio form, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a delightfully catchy anthem that is going to have people screaming the chorus of “Every day that you want to waste you can” at live shows in no time at all.

Mark Foster’s soaring voice flies under the radar slightly when compared to the furious synth and upbeat tempo of most of the album, but in actuality it’s probably the strongest musical element present here. It’s nothing too amazing, but it just fits into the vibe of the band so perfectly that it’s hard to imagine any other vocalist pulling off this release. This really comes to the fore with I Would Do Anything For You, which is structured almost entirely around vocals to fantastic effect.

‘Torches’ closes with the two songs the band open their live show with, Miss You and Warrant. And what a finish to an album they make. Miss You is driven by distorted, reverberating drum beats that grow slowly before taking over the song entirely with frantic double-drumming very reminiscent of White Rabbits. It was exhilarating live, and it has lost none of its power in studio form. Warrant meanwhile is the only song over five minutes long on ‘Torches’, and, with a slowly-building one minute instrumental introduction, is easily the least immediate track of the record. Give it time however and it breaks into the more recognisable Foster The People sound, and ensures the album ends on a high. 

The band say “Just call it what you want”, so I’m going to do just that: ‘Torches’ is an indie pop/dance album. You may not like to hear that, but it is. It is almost absurdly accessible, but yet equally there is an unfathomable amount of quality music here for a debut album. Hell, for any album. It’s just hit after hit after hit after hit, and it is already obvious that this is going to be a record simply adored by radio. There is not a single moment of self-doubt to be found here; not a single failure or hesitation in the entirety of the album. I guess that’s what comes from selling out venues before you’ve even released a full length record.

‘Torches’ is the most instantly likable album I have ever heard, and I don’t say that lightly. If you’re not hooked after your first listen, then this genre probably isn’t for you. Fuck the hype, Foster The People are the real deal, and with this album, easily the best of its kind so far this year, they demonstrate that they’re here to stay. Get on them now before they’re all over every commercial radio station in the world.

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2 Responses to “Album Review: Foster The People ‘Torches’”

  1. Great review as always. I wanted to get this album from the time I saw them live at the Oxford Art Factory and after reading this, I want to get it right now. I can’t wait to get it on my iPod.

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