foster the people’s 2011 album torches was a frighteningly impressive debut effort, with underlying themes running far deeper than its lead single “pumped up kicks” would suggest. indeed, that song proved to be one of the blander, safer songs constructed by mark foster; tracks like “call it what you want” and “houdini” showcased a special skill for crafting huge hooks that sat on top of an incredibly intricate pop foundation. the music was off-kilter and foster seemed to know no boundaries, which was what made the record so appealing. after three years of touring and writing new material, foster the people are back with supermodel, a sophomore album that marks a decided departure in style, yet only a slight one in ethos.
foster has been adamant that supermodel is not an extension of torches, and that assertion certainly holds up, to an extent. the album opens with a huge hook on “are you what you want to be,” but this quickly moves to an exotic descending vocal melody with lyrics that namecheck african instruments and geographic locations. perhaps this reflects a widened musical palate due to years of heavy touring, or just a love for paul simon. a dark undertone was present on torches, but themes of mortality and issues of self-worth run a bit more rampant and towards the surface throughout the new record; “ask yourself” focuses on a lack of satisfaction, with the blunt question “is this the life you’ve been waiting for?” present throughout the entire song. “coming of age” reflects the maturation of foster and his bandmates more explicitly, with verses full of emotions and similes as foster questions his bullheaded behavior of the past.
while there are delicate and dark moments and more intricate songwriting (see the electric guitar work in “ask yourself” and the acoustic timbres throughout “nevermind” and “fire escape”), foster the people definitely has not moved very far out of the arena of pop music. layered vocals on choruses of songs are very prominent throughout supermodel, serving as a prompt for listeners to sing along without a second thought, and the more expansive arrangements keep the noticeably longer songs interesting. most tracks clock in at around the four and a half minute-mark, with a few outliers, and this largely is not an issue. “pseudologica fantastica” is the longest song on the album and adds a slice of psychedelia to the band’s repertoire. it’s not a sound that would work well as a common theme for an entire album, but the agitated synthesizers and droning, reverb-drenched guitar lines add a supplemental element that definitely keeps supermodel from feeling monotonous.
the pop music created by foster the people on supermodel is sensible; it’s a safe progression in terms of artistic development that neither pushes boundaries to the extreme nor recycles old material. like torches, i would expect it to be a sleeper album that somehow sneaks its way into radio and television slots in an unassuming manner, before reeling listeners in with infectious hooks like the one found on “best friend.” mark foster has proven that he can write intelligent music with crossover appeal, and while supermodel certainly isn’t a monumental effort, it sure is a damn pleasure to listen to.