Foster The People’s Torches doesn’t seem like the kind of album that would send a music critic into an existential crisis, but coming on the same day that a reader called said critic a “hater in the depths of an emotional hibernation,” Torches was probably the worst album to listen to. With bubble-gum melodies, lyrics that can’t possibly mean anything to anyone, and about as much creativity as an ice sculpture of Maroon 5, Foster The People may seem harmless. But, that’s what they want you to think. Could it be that Foster The People are actually trying to reverse evolution and send music back to the dark ages where fourteen-year old boys entertain us with their lute playing, only to be fed to lions when they make a mistake (this doesn’t sound so bad)? Are Foster The People, in fact, the devil?
Well, of course not. Obviously, I hyperbol. But, there is something troubling at the heart of Torches. Sure, it is easy to listen to, like an audio lobotomy that will make you tap your foot regardless of if you even have feet. You probably have to be a real grinch to find too much fault in the straight-ahead pop that is deeply-embed throughout
Of course, whether or not you buy into Foster The People will depend on if you embraced their unavoidable single, “Pumped Up Kicks.” The song is easily the most laid-back that Foster The People get, with Mark Foster singing in such a relaxed manner that you could imagine him dozing off in mid-verse. But, though the song seems taylor-made for a shoe commercial, there is one little problem — it is about a school shooting rampage. Yeah, it’s a sing-along about a Columbine-type incident, and as preposterous as that sounds, the hard truth is that these are the most intriguing lyrics on the album. On the two-words-say-it-all number “Miss You,” we learn that Foster “really misses you” and would “smile at the chance to see you again,” all while bouncing along in double-time. It’s like if you took Morrissey and stripped him of all wit and self-awareness.
Word is that Mark Foster got his start in making music for TV shows and commercials, which makes total sense, as those kinds of songs need to be able to accurately mimic contemporary music trends while making them instantly accessible for the public. Foster The People seem to be finding success at this, as they play sold-out shows and see increasing radio play. This seems to be the downside of the mainstream-ization of “indie,” as many music consumers can’t (or just don’t care to) tell the difference between music that is artful and original, and pale Xerox’s of bands that were already walking the fine line of taste. Regardless, even the harshest of words are unlikely to stop this album from being a success. And that, well, is kind of depressing.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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