warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Foster The People: 'Supermodel' Album Review

Sivani Hari |
March 17, 2014 | 8:14 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Album cover of "Supermodel," second album by Foster The People.
Album cover of "Supermodel," second album by Foster The People.

Using the sophomore album as a chance to explore themes of disillusionment with “the industry” seems to be a common practice among bands that first found critical success with their debuts – MGMT’s “Congratulations” and Young The Giant’s “Mind Over Matter” come to mind. With “Supermodel,” Foster The People follows this trend, diving fearlessly into the subject at hand. "Supermodel" manages to toe the line between heavy-handedness and superficiality. The album resonates with a fresh authenticity that keeps the songs feeling meaningful rather than akin to some twenty-something’s meager attempts at being “deep.”

According to their Reddit AMA, “Supermodel” is about “searching for the truth.” Both the realities and illusions of our capitalistic, consumer culture are laid bare in the lyrical prowess that graces each song on “Supermodel.” The deluxe version is 12 songs long, and clocks in at 53:57 minutes – a good 10 minutes longer than the debut, “Torches.” But does the album drag?

Nope. With their latest album, Foster The People have taken the infectious synth encasings of their old style and infused these pop sensibilities with a core of guitar-driven exploration, lyrical introspection and vocal solidarity. With “Supermodel,” Mark Foster (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Cubbie Fink (bass, backing vocals) and Mark Pontius (drums, percussion, backing vocals), together with producer Paul Epworth, have created a new album with as much depth as the topic it musically expounds on, without sacrificing the contagious "danceability" that drew people to “Torches.”  

Generation Y. The American Dream. Honesty and its evil veiled twin, deception. In a series of videos leading up to the release date of the album, Mark Foster explains what the band sought to explore through “Supermodel.” He says that the songs are about the “black and white extremes of Los Angeles,” and also about his view of the age we live in, “where everybody kind of views themselves in some way, shape or form as a supermodel” in how "we're putting on a face we want people to see but it isn't necessarily the honest face of who we are."

The album opener, “Are You What You Want To Be,” immediately sucks you in with its familiar synth-and-guitar pairing underlaid with an interesting African-sounding percussive beat. This was likely inspired by Foster’s trip to Morocco while he was working on the album. This is followed by “Ask Yourself,” a track that bounces perfectly off the theme of the last with its chorus: “Are you hoping that you’ll be what you want with a little more?” The guitar, in both its acoustic and electric forms, takes center stage here.

And with that, we reach the first single, “Coming of Age.” With its video like a love letter to the 80s, this song is just as danceable as any of the old singles on “Torches” like “Pumped Up Kicks” or “Houdini.” Even the song itself contains subtle throwbacks to the band’s older works: the keyboard in the bridge is reminiscent of the keys in “Call It What You Want,” and the acoustic guitar riff recurring in each pre-chorus evokes the spirit of “Don’t Stop (Color On The Walls).”

Amidst the unsteady guitar plucks and wails, the lyrics of “Nevermind” again speak of a search for something, with the admission that “Sometimes it’s blinding in the race/But I’ll be here smiling when I see your face.” The second single, “Pseudologia Fantastica,” is a masterful shoegaze romp through a psychedelic soundscape that is wonderfully evocative of Australian rock band Tame Impala.

“The Angelic Welcome of Mr. Jones” is a 30 second track comprised of a harmonic chorus of voices. According to the band’s Reddit AMA, the song is in fact “a small piece of a bigger song that we haven't released yet, titled "The Unforseeable Fate of Mr. Jones." So fans can hopefully be on the lookout for the complete version – but for now, this small excerpt acts as a soothing divider between the 2 halves of the album.

“Best Friend,” the third single released earlier this month, is another frenetic dance groove that devolves into a jam of guitars, horns and airy falsetto vocals. It encapsulates the same palpable, jumpy energy that pervaded “Torches.”

Coming in with synth soars and glitchy, snatched vocals, “A Beginner's Guide to Destroying the Moon” alternates between punchy verses wrought with political statement and light choruses accompanied by a soft piano. The effect is that of both an in-your-face ferocity as well as a gentler entreaty, with a sound similar to that of psychedelic duo MGMT.

SEE MORE: 7 Non-Headliners You Can’t Miss On Coachella Weekend

“Goats In Trees” is an entirely acoustic tune, embellished with minimal synthetic flourishes. This arrangement allows Foster’s vocals to take the spotlight – particularly his lower range, which we didn’t hear much of in “Torches.” The song ends with Foster’s howls blending into the frantic yapping of coyotes – barks that were fatefully present at the time they were recording the song. According to Mark Foster, these coyotes out on a hunt were “symbolic to the subject matter of the song and the feeling of being pursued by an enemy that comes from all directions.”

“The Truth” enters with a grumbling synth and launches into a high-pitched chorus where the lyrics, again, return to the pursuit of truth over lies. A sliding synth kicks in towards the end, as the song builds into a crashing crescendo that delivers its message home.

The next track, “Fire Escape,” has an intimate arrangement similar to that of “Goats In Trees,” with just a finger-picked guitar and Mark Foster’s voice rising into a Bon Iver-esque chorus harmony with the repeated chant, “Save yourself.” This song makes clear references to LA and the American Dream, with the lines “Los Angeles I've been waiting for you/To pick yourself up and change/The city you've made, this ocean and sand/Is founded by liars and self-made men.” The song also makes references to dreamers, pimps and prostitutes. Foster says it was inspired by an actual fire escape on a building he used to inhabit, which allowed him to look over the city of Los Angeles. Perhaps this gave him a new perspective on the city, revealing LA to him in all its shades-- beautiful and ugly.  

Finally, we have the closing track that only comes with the deluxe version of the album: “Tabloid Super Junkie.” This song is faster-paced while maintaining a relaxed tone, with a twangy plucked guitar riff and electronic keys weaving in and out of the melody. Could this song be referencing the Michael Jackson tune of similar title, “Tabloid Junkie"? The two songs confront a similar theme through vastly different musical techniques – but it could be significant that Foster The People’s tune employs speaking voices in the background, just as MJ does in his song.  

In a video on their channel, Foster The People’s Mark Foster admits that “the first record was a collection of songs, but this was an album." And I would have to agree. As much as I love "Torches," there is something incredible about the cohesiveness that “Supermodel” offers not only aurally, but also lyrically. Both “Best Friend” and “A Beginner’s Guide To Destroying The Moon” show off Mark Foster’s matured vocals that can now fearlessly tackle a wider range with easy abandon. And kudos must be given to Foster and Epworth for their production of the album, because the arrangement of every track on this record is solid and satisfying.

What astounds me is that there is not one song on the album that could be called a love song. Though a few songs certainly make allusions to love, there’s no song here that would be appropriate to dedicate to a significant other. And there’s no need. All the songs on the album are so true to the theme that adding other, less relevant songs to the mix might have only watered-down the experience, detracting from its overall impact.

The best part about “Supermodel"? Picture this: you’re rocking out to the crazy dance vibes that pervade the album, when suddenly you hear a lyric and you feel compelled to think a little more about what our society values, a little more about whether our obsession with consumption and appearance is really a viable path to happiness. All triggered by one little glorious pop song. Isn’t that refreshing?

“Supermodel” showcases a unique merging of catchy dance beats and meaningful lyrics – and in this blend, Foster The People may have just found their secret weapon.

“Supermodel” releases in the U.S. today, and the band goes on tour in April. The album is available on iTunes here.

Read more of NT's album reviews here.

Reach Staff Reporter Sivani here. 



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.