‘Supermodel’ Poses As Upbeat Album, Maintains Complexity

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Los Angeles alternative rock band Foster the People has just released its second album, Supermodel. The band’s previous work, Torches, was released in 2011 and featured hits such as “Pumped Up Kicks,” “Helena Beat,” and “Color on the Walls.” While the new album lacks the optimistic energy that dominated the last one, it has interesting, consistent themes and a number of notable tracks. Foster the People’s warm, vivid music comes through in easy and colorful tones, with a captivating blend of keyboards, guitars, and synthesizers that create a sound that is completely unique to the trio.

Mark Foster’s soft vocals are the nucleus of every song in this album. He sings consistently about the pains of entering adult life and not knowing exactly what the game plan is-that gnawing feeling that consumes every 20-something. The lyrics also provide a commentary on modern consumer culture and how people measure their self-worth in terms of how others discern their online presence, thus hiding their true selves beneath this facade. Foster describes the album as “angry,” and that it is. Much darker than Torches, this album feels like a slap in the face for those expecting to hear the feel-good melodies of the band’s previous work.

The opening song is “Are You What You Want To Be?,” a catchy tune more reminiscent of the electronic, upbeat style of the band. It leads us into the album with its semi-distorted guitar riffs and repetitive vocal “nananas” that, surprisingly, do not seem to get old. The verses are constructed in a complex and interesting way-they are a little odd to listen to, but that’s what makes them intriguing.  It’s easy to imagine “Are You What You Want To Be?” being played in a stadium setting-it sounds bigger than a lot of their older tunes, more geared to play live than, say, “Helena Beat.”

The lyrics are still amazingly dark, but in a playful way that you can only hear if you really listen. “Pumped Up Kicks” is a deceptive song in that it has a bubbly beat but lyrics that do not fit that mood, which actually talk about a school shooting. Supermodel builds off of this mood-it keeps this pop-like facade, but listeners who know the band fairly well will know to look under this lighthearted exterior to find what sets this band apart from other mindless indie pop bands.

The track “Pseudologia Fantastica”-a title that sounds nothing but pretentious-is actually a display of Foster the People’s stylistic development. The group leaves the realm of well-calculated radio pop and delivers a track that experiments with psychedelic sounds and lethargic beats. Foster the People is taking a leaf out of the book of its fellow indie rockers MGMT, with a ’60s feel and a looser attitude. The stark difference between this track and general Foster the People canon is that this is more reminiscent of a throwback: it has a Beatles-esque timelessness that doesn’t care too much about millennial catchiness and sounds much more experimental.

With “Goats in Trees” and “Fire Escape,” it sounds as though the band is abandoning its computer and the theatrics in favor of a more human and natural sound. These stripped-down songs remind the listeners that the members of Foster the People are bonafide musicians who can actually play instruments without relying on modern technology.

Supermodel has its stylistic and experimental merits, but overall it returns to the familiar and fails to be exciting upon repeat listens. It lacks the energy and quirky fun of Foster the People’s debut album. WhileTorches was a more relatable listen, however, it fell into the trap of generic indie rock-a category Supermodel avoids.

Meredith Souto also contributed to this review.