Friday, August 4, 2017

Review of Foster the People's "Sacred Hearts Club"

I posted this review earlier this morning on the Sputnik Music website.

Review Summary: With this, their third album, Foster the People has begun to accumulate an impressive body of work.

Say what you will about Foster the People, this is a band that knows how to write alt-rock pop songs. Their debut album Torches went platinum, largely on the strength of the 2010 hit single, "Pumped Up Kicks". Their 2014 follow-up Supermodel was a step down, but not a huge one. Now comes Sacred Hearts Club, which is roughly equivalent in terms of quality to Supermodel. I prefer Supermodel myself, but it's almost a coin toss. Several other reviews I've seen have considered this to be the superior album of the two. Either way, one thing is clear -- Foster the People has become one of the better bands working within the indie pop genre. With this, their third album, they've begun to accumulate an impressive body of work.

There are 12 songs on Sacred Hearts Club. Two are short, connector-type songs -- they aren't really meant to stand alone, just to provide a bridge between two of the longer tracks. Of the other ten, nine are decent or better. As for the overall sound, it's made up mostly of dreamy electro bits, slow trippy beats and laid back (and sometimes falsetto) vocals, with weird synth and vocal effects sprinkled into the mix throughout. For the most part, the music is in no hurry to get anywhere, which is fine. I saw a comment somewhere that claimed FTP was creating the kind of sounds that The Beach Boys might have forged had they been formed in the 2010s instead of the 1960s. While I don't agree entirely, I can hear where the notion is coming from. Like The Beach Boys, Foster the People creates a lazy, beach-like vibe, minus all the lyrics about sand, sea, cars and girls. And although they're less harmony-driven than The Beach Boys, when they do reach for some blended vocals, the sound is pretty savory indeed. In certain spots, such as the end of "Lotus Eater", you can really hear a similarity between the vocal sounds of the two bands.

Where the comparison, and to a certain extent the album, falls a little short is that Foster the People sometimes experiments with harsher sounds here that I don't think Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys would have gone for. "Pay the Man", the first song on the album, does have an edge to it. But it's the kind of song that feels somewhat formless during the verses, only really coming together for the chorus. The worst offender, however, is a track called "Loyal Like Sid & Nancy". This one is all over the place, and reminds me of some of the more unforgivable excesses of bands like MGMT. I should also confess, though, that I've never been a fan of hip-hop, and these two are the hip-hoppiest tracks on the album, which might help explain why they're my two least favorites. Anyway, while I applaud the band for trying to stretch their sound a little, I don't think they were successful on these two songs (especially on "Sid and Nancy").

On the other hand, most of the other tracks, if not great, are at least pretty good. "Sit Next to Me", a mid-tempo pop song that's right in FTP's wheelhouse, scores nicely here. The vocals are easy on the ears in a Mowgliesque kind of way. (Geez, "hip-hoppiest", "Mowgliesque" -- I'm coining my own words right and left!). Also strong is "Doing It for the Money", which has the best jangly guitar work on the album. Other songs I especially like include "I Love My Friends", a bass-driven ode to the lovable losers who make our lives a better place, "Harden the Paint", a call-and-response song that sounds like it might have been written slightly backwards, and "III", the slow, dreamy song that ends the album.

Foster the People has become one of my favorite bands of the current decade. Their ability to craft quality pop songs and the mellowness of their sound might not make them great artists, but it does make their music really pleasing to listen to. Sacred Hearts Club, while not as strong an album as Torches, is still one of the better albums released in 2017. And I suspect that Brian Wilson himself would agree.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars