Thursday, 13 February 2014

Foster the People - Supermodel

Foster the People's debut album Torches is lavished in gorgeous harmonies and organic instrumentation. It almost seems inevitable that the Californian three-piece would be stronger and wiser with their sophomore album titled Supermodel. When you have a sound that's not truly unique or innovative, but has a strong following - you have to run with it in whatever direction you please. Belle & Sebastian took their indie pop down a sadcore / intelligent route, and MGMT stole home with their neo-psychedelia / experimental sound which still scores strong on 00s listening. Foster the People were born out of a range of genres, and their debut album features some of these coming together. Primary member Mark Foster is the key to the success of Supermodel, as it's his lyrics and his views which have to reflect the trio, and how they operate in the music industry. Obviously signing to a major record label is a great help, and with the success of "Pumped up Kicks", Foster the People have been able to approach their second album knowing their audience is growing.  

It's a tough task following up "Pumped up Kicks" and its accompanying album Torches, but on initial listens, Supermodel steals the limelight even without a chart topping hit. On Supermodel, Foster the People more often than not sound like a less electronic Django Django. They're taking up worldbeat, while showcasing a range of influences constructed through their recording process in Morocco with Paul Epworth. The accumulation of genres ranging from twee, glitch, and pop, make for an entertaining listen at the very least. With pre-release single "Coming of Age", you can really hear these mixed genres coming together to create a sound truly held by Foster the People as their own - and it's not too accessible either.

They begin with the percussion stomping "Are You What You Want To Be?” It's dipped in bass, layers of guitar, and harmonies which sound more like a political Vampire Weekend than previous Foster the People material. It's far more reliant on structure, compared to the pop logic of Torches. They really stand out when the instruments drop off, and the listeners hear match-ups. For example, the vocals and bass going together over a sporadic percussion beat, and the nonsensical vocals acting as the chorus - it's all steps on a pyramid Foster the People are climbing. And they don't look like stepping down, as "Ask Yourself" is that little bit extra with multi-layered vocals and a questioning lyrical segment on top of one of the best bass riffs on Supermodel.

Foster the People's use of an acoustic guitar really stands out on their sophomore. It's never overbearing, but it does sound unusually (but intended) raw in the opening to heavily produced tracks such as "Nevermind". Here, the acoustic guitar acts as a platform to build upon, but once "Nevermind" is in full flow, the acoustic guitar becomes nothing more than a repetitive nuisance, dampening the killer chorus: "Nevermind what you're looking for." Still, Foster the People show that they're not just a one trick pony, as discovered with the following track "Pseudologia Fantastica". It sounds like an undeveloped Animal Collective demo, touched by MGMT's psychedelia as heard with Fantastica's shoegaze influenced electric guitars. Epworth and co have done a great job getting the mix right on this track, as heard with fade outs and fade ins to the piano, electric guitar, and the hidden special aspect on this track - the percussion, which is outstanding.

Foster has talked about his electronic influences in the past, but they've not quite been put on record till now. "A Beginner's Guide to Destroying the Moon" is his outlet to the electronic rock world, with one of the more authentic tracks on Supermodel. The piano interludes are preparation for deeper bass and louder synthesizers, acting out as warnings for the punk-esque structure. Foster's vocal crumbles and raises with urgency, as he sings: "The blood of the forgotten wasn't spilt without a purpose," truly mesmerising and completely unexpected stuff from the trio who the UK believed were a one hit wonder. Of course, Foster the People are certainly not, they have as much right to their success as Coldplay, or MGMT, but without the history and experience of fellow indie pop / electronic dwellers of Montreal. They seem to really go for that Kevin Barnes sound, especially on the meteorical seventh track "Best Friend". This is where Foster the People's hard work pays off. The elements are all in place for a funky pop song, but Foster the People totally ace the structure, using a high pitched chorus to sound somewhat child-like, and brass to pump the listeners up leading in to the second half of Supermodel. Foster the People have a lot to give, and "Best Friend" pretty much tops anything they've produced since "Pumped up Kicks". 

Supermodel is a strong follow-up to Torches, something I never expected. Foster the People always seemed like a rushed popular of Montreal to me, but with Supermodel, they’ve taught me to take notice to their deeper more emotional aspects rather than their monetary and chart success. They cover all bases on Supermodel, using "Goats In Trees" as a soft ballad, and "The Truth" as a bulky electronic track right at the close. "Goats in Trees" is then topped by the album closer "Fire Escape". It's another ballad, but this time with minimalism and synthesizers rather than a defining electric guitar feature. The backing vocals add to the emotion, which Foster takes to heart. It's not easy to pull off such beauty at the back of an album, but Foster and his two comrades Cubbie Fink and Mark Pontius work through it with ease. And that’s what Supermodel is all about really - ease. It's not a challenging album technically, though you could argue its electronic elements are out of the ordinary for this trio. Foster the People have brilliantly created a follow-up which ensures their continuity as an album artist, rather than a one song artist. It makes all the difference, and this album really delivers sentimental value for the Californians. Solid work, fluid, and above all - experimental from their norm.
~Eddie Gibson



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