Semi-New Song Sunday: Foster the People

Re-discovering Foster the People with a recent EP I like almost as much as their first album

Foster the People isn’t “new to me” music — although I did only get into Torches after it seemed like everyone else in the world had gotten tired of it — but I kind of lost interest for a while. I’d been pretty eagerly waiting for their second album, but it didn’t do much for me. And I was so uninterested in their third album that until just now, I didn’t even realize it existed.

But last year they released a new EP, In The Darkest of Nights, Let the Birds Sing, and it somehow re-captures the stuff I liked about Torches. Specifically: that album was so all over the place that I’d been hearing the most well-known tracks for at least a year before I realized that they were all by the same artist. But at the same time, there’s a consistent sound that ties the whole thing together.

My favorite track on the new EP is the first, “Walk With a Big Stick,” because it sounds like it was designed to be my favorite: it’s like they took an alternate take of “Pumped Up Kicks” from Torches and duct-taped The Beach Boys on top of it. And it works brilliantly. I’ll always associate this band with Los Angeles, because Torches came on while I was driving alone through the city on a road trip to Disneyland, and it felt at that moment like it was the official soundtrack to early-21st-century LA. Adding a surf guitar chorus just amps that up even more. Maybe it’s a gimmick, but I don’t really care.

Also feeling like an odd mash-up of styles is “Under the Moon.” It has a mid-80s sound I can’t quite place — Echo & the Bunnymen? Psychedelic Furs? — but is tied to the rest of the EP by Ben Foster’s unique voice.

From what little I know about the band, I get the impression that the first album was so heavily influenced by having a “viral hit” and licensing deals for games and TV commercials, that it has an inescapable connotation of being a purely commercial record. Which is unfair, since it’s a really good album overall. Something about this EP feels like they’re going back to embracing the hooks and the gimmickry, and I think it’s much better for it!