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Foster The People won us over with their dreamy indie-pop hit “Pumped Up Kicks” in 2011. Sparking conversation due to the song’s commentary on violent, homicidal thoughts akin to the rampant school shootings being committed by teenagers across the nation, the band was launched into the mainstream, signing on to Columbia Records and releasing a few other singles from their debut album Torches. Their first album boasted an electronic vibe, heavy with modulated vocals and sizzling synth riffs. Mark Foster’s vocals were a bit nasally, but his voice- similar to Mike Rosenberg of Passenger- caught the attention of critics and fans alike. Their songs were catchy and under produced- the perfect fodder for music hipsters everywhere. Three short years later, and Foster The People have returned with an exceptionally more mature sound.
Supermodel takes off with a tenacity that couldn’t be found in their first album, flinging flashy “na na nas” at you accompanied by lyrics that seem to be stumbling on top of one another. These past few years, it seems, the band has been taking notes from other prominent acts, as the tracks feel like a collective of multiple genres. Fusing surfer rock guitar while simultaneously reaching for a more mainstream sound, with layered vocals and catchy, echoing choruses, they have taken a step towards a goal that may just be out of their reach.
The album really gets its stride with the third track, the first single off the album, “Coming of Age.” Immediately catchy with its call and response chorus and wavering verses that crescendo in and out, this song is a culmination of all the band’s been working towards since their first album. Foster’s vocals have aged well, sounding more polished and practiced than the still good but amateur belting of Torches. Edging close to dream pop at times, we’re drawn in with the psychedelic, echoing “oohs,” practically begging us to listen on.
The name itself begs the question of what the band was trying to accomplish with this album. The mysterious, slightly morose vibes created with reverb and syncopated drums cast the shadow of a slightly jaded music giant, flung into stardom years ago and with burning desire to continue to impress those they have drawn in. Supermodel accomplishes exactly what fans have been asking of Foster The People: a new album that’s not Torches, but still bears the same flashy, radio-friendly quality. Borrowing the sleepy electronic influence of MGMT and The Flaming Lips, overlaid with demanding melodies that grip your eardrum tightly, the album evolves before our eyes (ears?), transforming itself as it goes.
After a quick choral interlude, “A Beginner’s Guide To Destroying The Moon” barrels out at us. Completely different from the other tracks on the album, this one is pleasantly different, calling upon grunge and the electronic pop of the 80s with its aggressive vocals and fervent, fierce guitar. This track introduces us to a new side of Foster The People, a side willing to try new and different things, to step into the unknown. It transports us back to an earlier time we can’t quite place a date on, creating a new badass persona for the band. It doesn’t forget about their signature sound, though, as it infuses twisting synth tracks, climbing like ivy through the song’s core structure.
The band includes more variety on the album, with “Nevermind” and “Goats in Trees” acting as their ballads. They slow down the chaotic speed the rest of the album takes on, inducing swaying and head bopping. “Goats in Trees” in particular is the most bare bones track on Supermodel, acting as a duet between Foster and his guitar, the synth tracks merely backup. Dipping down into the lower half of his range, we hear the husky vibrato Foster has seemingly been hiding from us. This creates a nice change of pace, teaching us that Foster The People has truly been working since Torches. It’s also a prime example of how their sound has matured over the years, taking a risk and ultimately owning it.
The album closes out with the lamenting track, “Fire Escape.” Taking cues from the wave of acoustic indie overtaking the music industry, this last song is like their lullaby, their quiet “goodbye for now”. It leaves a taste of promise, opening up endless possibilities for future albums. A bit distant with lyrics, it’s not the most confident track on the album; rather, it shows Foster The People’s vulnerable side. It proves they’re not all powerhouse psychedelic dance pop- they have a plucky, acoustic side, too. “Fire Escape” further pushes the idea they’ve attempted to execute throughout Supermodel – the idea that they’re a diverse, dynamic group capable of adopting a familiar sound and still making it their own.
Overall, Foster The People have proven themselves as a band that’s going to stick around. They could have ended it all after “Pumped Up Kicks” was so wildly successful. But they chose to soldier on, taking on a challenge that seemed bigger than themselves. With all the praise granted to Torches, it was clear that Foster The People had a big reputation to live up to with their sophomore album. It could have turned out so differently- we could have had a second Torches. But they chose to truly embody the sound they had cultivated, dipping their toes in the same pools as bands like Animal Collective and Neon Indian. Supermodel struts down the runway with confidence- though the band must be wary not to hold their heads too high.