Los Angeles hipster trio Foster the People saw a sudden burst in popularity when their first single, Pumped Up Kicks, developed an almost viral popularity overnight thanks to their distinctive style, a catchy bassline… and a variety of TV soundtrack deals. Aside from giving indie know-it-alls like myself an excellent opportunity to grumble “I knew them before they were famous”, this also placed a certain pressure on Mark Foster and company with their second album.
The band promised a more evolved sound for Supermodel, Foster stating that before he had been “looking at my vision for the project through a piece of opaque glass”, but that this LP would be “a clearer picture” of that vision. However pretentious the metaphor, it’s certainly clear that the band haven’t just settled with rattling off a second album identical to their début Torches.
In general the first few tracks on Supermodel definitely seem to fit the idea of a more refined version of Foster the People’s earlier sound. Coming of Age, the first of the three singles released in the lead-up to the album, is a perfect example. It has many of the elements that made Torches great—Foster’s distinctive vocal style and chaotic, eclectic production are very much present here—but still feels more mature than their debut. ‘Pseudologia Fantastica’ (aside from being a nightmare to spell) is a particular stand-out track, combining the distinctive feel of Foster the People with more psychedelic influences.
With the possible exception of ‘Ask Yourself’ (which is a good track, but feels more like a Coldplay song with Mark Foster vocals swapped in) the first five tracks on Supermodel are exactly what I’d been expecting: staying true to their earlier style, but with a more developed, evolved feel.
However, the 30-second a capella sixth track, ‘The Angelic Welcome of Mr. Jones’, provides an unexpected turning point. From this point onwards, it feels like the focused “vision” of the first half was put aside, and instead the band seem to have tried as many different styles as they possibly could over the course of the remaining five tracks.
The slightly bombastic brass elements introduced in ‘Best Friend’ (not as jarring as it sounds on paper – give it a chance) disappear completely and are not heard from again: the next track, ‘Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon’ is instead defined by grungy guitars, and ‘The Truth’ makes heavy use of dark electronic synth sounds in a stark contrast to the stripped-back, acoustic closing track, ‘Fire Escape’.
This kind of experimentation is by no means unwelcome, and the second half of the album contains some undeniably good tracks: I personally particularly enjoyed ‘Goats in Trees’, with instrumentals that could have been the work of The Shins, but with vocals distinctly reminiscent of Alex Turner’s solo work; this may be more of a stylistic departure than many Torches fans are looking for.
Overall the second half of the album is incredibly mismatched, with styles and genres jumping back and forth enough to cause whiplash. This would not necessarily be a bad thing – but why confine it to the second half? Listening to Supermodel almost gives the impression that Foster the People made two albums, one being a matured version of Torches, the other a more experimental foray into different genres and sounds, then split both down the middle and joined them. Both approaches would have made for great albums, but as it is, Supermodel ends up a little on the disorganised side – its individual tracks are varied and generally meet the high standard that Foster The People had set for themselves, but all together on one album they feel a little lacking in focus. Nevertheless, their knack for danceable rhythms and distinctive instrumentation ensures that it’s still a very enjoyable listen.
Supermodel comes out in the UK on 24th March.