Album Review: Foster the People, ‘Torches’

It’s been just over 20 years since 6’1” Dee Brown famously “pumped up” his Reebok Omni Lite Pumps in the 1991 NBA Dunk Contest. Today’s dunk contests can trace their frequent theatrics and prop-based jams to that very moment. Curiously, Foster the People can trace the anticipation leading up to their debut album, Torches, to the very same moment. 

The tremendously catchy single from the album—“Pumped Up Kicks”—can be enjoyed by anyone, even if its sports culture significance isn’t so obvious. While the chorus-provided notion that “all the other kids in the pumped up kicks better run, run, run / faster than my bullet” is disturbing at worst and relatably envy-fueled at best, the instrumental skips along oblivious, happily. The bass line carries the song, and right at that point at which one thinks to himself, “Hmm, I should whistle along to this,” a whistle track commences. This scenario is practically inevitable, in fact.

While “Pumped Up Kicks” is the highlight of the album, there’s certainly a lot to be appreciated here. Fans of MGMT will enjoy tracks like “Colors on the Wall (Don’t Stop)” and “Warrant”: guitar-driven, (very relatively) mellow tracks with just a pinch of electro-pop. Torches manages to dish out a fair portion of rock while keeping things playful and authentically weird.

The majority of the album sounds curiously like a less synth-centric Passion Pit. In fact, when lead vocalist Mark Foster hits his falsetto, the two bands are barely distinguishable (“Hustling (Life on a Nickle)” might be the most ready example). There’s nothing wrong with this sound: the beats are unrelenting, squeaking, rumbling and demanding; the vocals are cathartic; the warm synths, keyboard, and the occasional churchy piano amidst the chaos give the tracks plenty of texture and emotion. There are a plenty of sing-along opportunities. And there are a lot of handclaps. It’s a really, really fun sound, but not quite incredibly different.

In short, “Pumped Up Kicks” wants to be your companion during those long summer school- or workdays. Or during those long summer days in the mall. The other tracks are best served at the end of the week, preferably amongst a tightly-packed crowd of people who have been looking forward to throwing their hands up and singing dreamy refrains with you. Each of those tracks wants to be your weekend anthem, and that inter-album competition is both the greatest utility and greatest weakness of Torches. The trouble is, for music that is this circumstance dependent, there usually aren’t a ton of people who have the lyrics memorized come Friday or Saturday night.

In fairness, Torches does have its place in your digital (or physical…) album collection. “Pumped Up Kicks” is without doubt one of the best, most infectious songs of the year, and the other tracks are sure to get feet a-shuffling and heads happily bobbing in a hurry. Just be sure to include Passion Pit’s Manners in the mix.

Like what you hear? Wander on over to the band’s website and buy a cheap digital copy of Torches: