I’m trying to find a musical analogy to describe Foster the People’s sound ... at least one that doesn’t sound lame. The band certainly isn’t, but I find it difficult to put a relatable label on this indie pop trio. The best I can come up with is “Abba meets Gorillaz.” I know that sounds like a pop culture abomination, but it’s the best I can do at the moment.
I first became aware of the band when I saw the video for their debut single “Pumped Up Kicks” on a satellite music channel. It seemed like a sort of polished garage rock at the time, so I checked out the album. Mind you, I am not a pop music fan by any definition of the word. I prefer dinosaur metal, progressive rock and Frank Zappa. There’s something about the album Torches that appeals to me, for some reason I can’t totally grasp. Their music and vocals are layered and somewhat dense, but they still produce a sound that is light and danceable. The lyrics are interesting and rather strange at times. The first single tells the tale of a trouble kid with a gun, while “Helena Beat” seems to be simply about getting through the day. There seem to be a lot of simple truths covered in this album, and they are related in a way that often catches you off-guard, with the real meaning of the song hitting you on the second, third or even seventh listening. That’s a welcome change from a guitar hook or a drum beat in your face and an auto-tuned voice whining a mindless but commercially-viable chorus.
Foster the People’s sound is what I would have expected had half the good college/alternative bands of the eighties and nineties stayed around long enough to hone their craft and become something truly relevant. This band has reached that plateau with their first album, and quite honestly, this is one of the first good pop albums I’ve listened to in the past thirty years.