Like big-brand sodas of the “real cane sugar” variety, Foster the People radiates authenticity to the everyman who already finds cosmic delight in the most accessible cultural products. In 2011, the band’s debut single “Pumped Up Kicks” caught mainstream attention with its cutesy swagger and mildly socially conscious edge. Times have changed since 2011, and as the bearers of pedestrian ambition, Foster the People faces a more scrupulous cultural climate in 2014 with the release of its sophomore LP, “Supermodel”. As we enter the mid 2010’s, the blogosphere empowers the people with an unprecedentedly diverse musical palette at its fingertips, elevating the express-your-individuality rat race to new levels of hyper-zeal. If Rolling Stone magazine’s dismissal of “Supermodel” as “halfhearted” is any indication, lite hipster fodder just doesn’t cut it with the masses like it used to. It’s a crying shame because, for what it is, “Supermodel” is quite excellent.
It’s not like on “Supermodel” Foster the People radically deviates from the formula that made “Pumped up Kicks” such a success. The album’s opening track, “Are You What You Want to Be?” sparkles with the kind of watery guitar stabs and upbeat vocal sensibilities that so many music reviewers tag with the infamous “sun-drenched” descriptor. But as Foster the People celebrates self-empowerment over a chorus of “na na na na / na na na na na na”, the band demonstrates a capacity for refreshingly exquisite pop songwriting, even when the track’s emotions are so unashamedly insipid. On “Are You What You Want to Be?” the vocal hook shines with an ornate complexity that channels “Surf’s Up”-era Beach Boys. Impressive. Add to that the track “Nevermind”, which through its labyrinthine use of mode mixture conjures derivative hipster ethos in a way that’s more harmonically titillating than the entirety of Lorde’s “Pure Heroine”. Turns out a little chromaticism goes a long way – even when it’s at the expense of socially conscious bite.
The list goes on. As Foster the People executes what’s essentially a set of songs best suited for Converse sneaker commercials, they do so with the tact of learned, seasoned songwriters. Throughout “Supermodel”, polyrhythms between the bass and vocals create an intricate sonic weave. Instrumentation is arranged in such a way that none of the frequencies clash. Distinct harmonic and dynamic shifts highlight verses from choruses, and many of the track’s bridges go down chordal avenues that are spine-tingling even after several listens. While on “Supermodel” Foster the People’s music very much retains the commercial varnish of its debut album, the band reflects an unorthodox appreciation for the elements of fine composition that even alternative music’s heavy-hitters like Arcade Fire and Daft Punk overlook (listen to “Reflektor” again and notice how the low frequencies clash on “It’s Never Over”. Farty.)
While Foster the People’s debut was playful but forgettable, on its sophomore LP the band affords as much room for showcasing its songwriting prowess as it does for its fun-loving spirit. As a result, Foster the People presents listeners with an album that, while still flourishing at backyard pool parties, warrants more than a couple of personal listens as well.
Howard is a member of the class of 2017.