Torches by Foster the People album review

By Jared Ingham

Here are the facts. 1. Foster the People are a Californian three-piece from Los Angeles. 2. Their first album, Torches, has just been released. 3. It’s crap.

What Mark Foster (lead vocals, keyboard and guitar) and his bandmates Cubbie Fink, Zach Heiligman and Mark Pontius have done here is come up with a bunch of indie electronica lite. They’ve then passed it over to more talented people to produce the hell out of. No amount of studio wizardry could redeem these songs though, so the producers have been forced to bamboozle listeners by assaulting their ears with a tsunami of noise, in an unsuccessful attempt to compensate for a woeful lack of charm, melody and originality.

So far Torches has done quite well, topping the US indie album charts, entering the UK album chart just outside the top 20 and, God knows how, the song Pumped Up Kicks has been viewed over five million times on YouTube. How the album, and that song in particular, have done so well is actually genuinely incomprehensible.

Right from the off ‘Helena Beat’ sounds like it could be an unreleased MGMT number and the MGMT link comes back time and time again. Scarcely a review of Torches fails to mention MGMT and for good reason too. Judging by Torches, Foster the People are a million miles away from coming up with songs with the charisma of MGMT’s ‘Kids’, ‘Electric Feel’ and ‘Time To Pretend’ though.

‘Helena Beat’ is kind of catchy, but not in a good way. Think background music on a dfs Easter sofa sale advert. Perfect muzak as a fat gurning chump plops down on a hideous purple sofa. ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ is monotonous. ‘Call It What You Want’ is just possibly a slight improvement, although disconcertingly Rick Astley-esque in places.

The next effort, ‘Don’t Stop (Colour on the Walls)’ is far and away the best song on Torches. The electronica gets reined in, the chorus is catchy and there’s a pace and patience absent from the rest of the album. It sounds like something off The Dandy Warhols‘ likeable Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia, which is no small achievement. It doesn’t fit in with any of the other songs and it seems out of place. Or perhaps it’s just the quality that’s out of place, given the lack of it on the rest of the album.

It’s a huge shame that the talent on show here isn’t to be found elsewhere. ‘Waste’ is decent enough, one of the few songs with a chorus that doesn’t seem badly half-baked, although even here Foster’s dreary vocals infect the song and tarnish some of the sparkle. From there to the end, the only bright spot is ‘Houdini’ – firmly back in MGMT territory.

Of the rest “I Would Do Anything For You” is tedious times ten. Uninspired lyrics make a bad song worse: “Oo la la, I’m falling in love, and it’s better this time than I’ve ever known” etc etc. Foster, consistently bland, might as well be reading out the names from a phone book. There could be a trace of melody lurking somewhere in ‘Life on the Nickel’, but it’s hard to find beneath yet more of the incessant barrage of irritating electronica. ‘Miss You’ ventures off somewhere into techno land. It’s a hyperactive little affair, with an all too brief respite mid way through. By ‘Warrant’ most listeners will have had enough. It‘s the story of the album – all mouth, no trousers.

So, despite the genuinely decent ‘Don’t Stop (Colour On the Walls)’, and the mediocre ‘Waste’ and ‘Houdini’, what we have here is a poor man’s MGMT drunkenly grappling with an even poorer man’s Scissor Sisters at the edge of an empty dancefloor. Yes, the songs are bad, but worse than that, Torches leaves the uncomfortable impression that Foster the People represent some weird bastardisation of indie originality and massively over-produced X-factor manufactured garbage. You won’t have to look hard to find worse albums, but Torches feels like nothing more than a cynical attempt to disguise a lack of talent with crafty production. Foster the People should naff off and think carefully about why ‘Don’t Stop (Colour on the Walls)’ works and why pretty much everything else doesn’t.

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