Friday, May 27, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Foster The People 'Torches'

I didn't want to like Foster The People.

In fact, the first time I heard "Pumped Up Kicks" I was a little bit insulted. I thought I was listening to a poor man's MGMT - where was the depth? The soul? The texture? All that said, the song's loopy swagger was infectious and, before long, I wasn't changing the station when it came on in the car. But I still knew I'd hate the band. How could I not? It was paint-by-numbers Coachella with minimal substance and even less style. Chumbawamba for hipsters.

So when Torches arrived in my mailbox with its Where The Wild Things Are album cover and completely uninspired CD booklet (black lyrics on white paper - and people wonder why nobody buys CDs anymore), I was all geared up for a groaner...

Then the electro-fuzz opening of "Helena Beat" kicked the album off, swashing into falsetto vocals talking about life taking you by the hair, pulling you down, and leaving you dead again... Huh? I can relate to that - who can't? I keep listening...

You know those days, when you want to just choose
To not get out of bed, you're lost in your head again
You play the game but you kind of cut
'Cause you're coming down hard and your joints are all stuck

(Just like Chumbawamba, Foster The People get knocked down and they get up again...)

By now my psyche is not only calloused to "Pumped Up Kicks," I actually kind of like the song. It hearkens back to John Mayer's "No Such Thing" - musically light and fruity on the outside, but lyrically meaty in the middle. Mayer's pop ditty had him running through the halls of his high school, screaming at the top of his lungs because he just found out that the real world is a lie he's got to rise above. Foster's tale is one where all the kids with the pumped up kicks better run, faster than the bullet from our cowboy's gun.

That depth I was looking for? Found it - and there's texture, too. "Call It What You Want" and "Don't Stop (Color On The Walls)" bump and bounce like lo-fi Black Eyed Peas (that's a good thing), and "Waste" expands on the colors in the Cut Copy palette. "Houdini" oozes soul, seeping into the 'call me Al' spirit of "Life On The Nickel" and beyond the vibrant, post-modern quirkiness of "Miss You." Foster The People flirt with a disco dynamic on "I Would Do Anything For You," then marry Animal Collective's psychedelic romp with solid gold pop on "Warrant."

And less than 40 minutes after it starts, the voyage is over - the saving grace is, we only have to hit Play to take the journey all over again... and again, and again, and again. Torches is small-town charm amidst big city bustle. It's not reinventing the wheel, it's just greasing it up really well and making it spin a lot smoother. It spins like a kaleidoscope. Vibrant. Inspired. Refreshing.

Torches offers just what the name suggests - an album of bright lights and buoyant beats to guide us through the dark of day.

Like I said, I knew from the moment I heard "Pumped Up Kicks" that I'd love Foster The People!

If Torches isn't my album of the year, I can't wait to hear what is...

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