by Graham Taylor
In 2011, Foster the People released their debut album Torches and took the radio world by storm. The summer airwaves were dominated with peppy indie hits, including “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” and of course “Pumped Up Kicks,” earning the (at the time) trio two Grammy nominations. Their sophomore album, Supermodel was a bit more subdued in sound and reception but was another step in their evolution as musicians. With the surprise release of the aptly titled III on April 27 teasing their upcoming untitled third album, Foster the People not only boasts a new sound but also a new lineup following bassist Cubbie Fink’s departure. Foster the People has incorporated electronic influence since their conception, but that influence comes out in full force over the course of these three songs. Featuring drum machines, synths, and even some trap/EDM-influenced instrumentals, III is certainly stands out compared to their other works. But they stick to their indie beginnings, using catchy choruses and dancey verses.
The first track, “Pay the Man,” hits listeners with boisterous horns and a heavy beat before Mark Foster’s breathy voice comes in asking “Whatcha mean?” From there it delves into a moody atmospheric jam that is without a doubt the strongest track on the compilation. Dreary, antagonizing, almost nihilistic topics prevail throughout the song, complementing the somewhat gloomy new sound, but it remains safely rooted in pop territory. “Pay the Man” ultimately culminates in a bittersweet yet optimistic ending before segueing into the next song.
“Doing it for the Money” picks up lyrically where “Pay the Man” leaves off. Ending with “we all run when the light comes on…” “Doing it for the Money” continues with “Just close your eyes/ We’re gonna run this light.” It maintains this thematic upward motion, relaying this idea of being fearless in the face of darkness. It’s okay at best, but the message alone can’t save the song from extraordinarily lackluster instrumentation. Musically, the song is just incredibly generic. Whereas the first song took popular pop tropes of the past few years and applied them skillfully to Foster the People’s established style, “Doing it for the Money” seems to only use these tropes. This leads to the song sounding tired, sterile, and just soulless. It is easily the weakest part of the collection, which is a shame considering the other two are rather enjoyable.
“S.H.C.” is much more reminiscent of their earlier works with a flurry of psychedelic guitars introducing the track. The whole song has a very nostalgic feel, as a simple yet familiar structure leads listeners through a return to a more standard pop/rock format. The chorus could easily be mistaken for a Torches B-side, and after the previous two songs, this is a refreshing change of pace that doesn’t sound out of place. The tone of the song also calls back to Foster the People’s darker hits, the lyrics asking questions about depression, inner demons, and God, all masquerading behind the curtain of a catchy tune.
The full album is still untitled and does not yet have a release date, but is planned to drop over the summer. And if III is any indication, fans should be cautiously excited. Two out of three ain’t bad, but the sheer nondescript, boring nature “Doing it for the Money” should leave some weary. As long as Foster the People avoids overusing clichés, their new sound could be welcome entry in their catalog, and much like the overall message of the release, I believe we should be hopeful.
Image from Music Match
'III' is an exciting tease for what Foster the People have in store. As long as their creative power isn't hindered by pop cliches, their upcoming album could be a treat for fans old and new.