“I feel like I’m coming of age,” Mark Foster sings on Foster the People’s latest album, Supermodel. The album, which dropped in March, shows remarkable development in its second half — but in the first few songs’ cathedral of celestial synths, I’m falling asleep in the pew.
The first seven songs of Supermodel are destined to get lost in that tired, angsty cliché developing within contemporary alternative pop. Too many artists attempt to be deep by singing about relatively insignificant problems over sentimental poppy guitar riffs and an auto-tune church choir. Foster’s “Pumped Up Kicks” was a massive success because it was surprising; the music alone made you listen the first five times, and the lyrics kept you listening for the next five. In an attempt to focus on the message, Foster almost lost the edge — those imaginative, lively beats standing up to school shootings and depression without minimizing their gravity.
But before I tear Supermodel apart, let me be clear: The back end of the album carries the slog of an intro. “Best Friend” revives Foster the People’s multifaceted, get-up-and-dance groove. Foster pulls out all the stops, with beachy rock guitar balanced out by funky bass, brass and a dash of slide whistle. What some critics may call cluttered is what I think makes pop powerful. If the chorus-and-synth two-for-one deal is supposed to make me feel some sort of awe, I would recommend rocking the full brass band instead every time. When I hear a full orchestra of groove, I feel far more moved than when I hear a several-hundred-year-old cop-out.
“A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon” maintains the disillusionment and anger the band attempts to express in Supermodel, but this effort is far more successful. The song transitions from eerie electronic to ‘90s-rock rile to despondent piano bridge, yet the song still sounds utterly Foster. “Goats in Trees” trots along, relaxed but not lazy. “Fire Escape” sounds absolutely nothing like the band, but it’s a beautiful song to end the album: Even with those damn choral echoes, it only feels right when the metaphors can make the song feel new.
Every art-pop band in the scene has been filling the silence with church choir harmonies and the occasional afro-beat, but if I wanted to listen to upbeat guitar and electro-synth with mawkish, 50-percent-off mass-produced “struggle,” I’d listen to Coldplay. What was unique, remarkable even, about Torches was its enthusiastic, dance-ready hipster rock with a cerebral cortex. Foster’s lyrics are intelligent and contemplative. That thoughtful energy persists in Supermodel, but is hardly consistent. The only way a listener could catch the message behind any given song is by wanting to listen to that song again.