Writing and Singing Subversion: Foster the People’s Debut ‘Torches’

Posted in MusicWorld on December 15, 2011 by

What do a gun-toting latchkey kid, a downtrodden drug addict, and social recusants have in common? From a psychiatric standpoint, probably plenty. Lyrically speaking, however, they each act as a thematic muse in tracks from Foster the People’s debut full-length effort, Torches.

Hidden behind the guise of cavort-inspiring, synth-infused pop, these daunting protagonists linger in the background of the album’s three initial songs. The album’s audacious beginnings act as a springboard for the overwhelming sense of defiance that permeates the entirety of the record.

Although lacking a title track, the album begins with the aptly named, “Helena Beat.” Stemming from Greek origins, ‘Helena’ translates roughly to “light” or “torch.” Perhaps serving to illuminate the other parables that follow on the record, “Helena Beat,” depicts a narrator indelibly wounded by his own shortcomings and seeking solace in drugs and alcohol.

Calloused and apathetic towards his life, lead singer, Mark Foster, professes that he’s “got nothing to lose.” The chorus ends with a sentiment seemingly more sarcastic than tenacious, “Yeah, yeah, and I’m alright. I took a sip of something poison but I’ll hold on tight.”

The L.A.-based trio rose to fame on the heels of the trigger-happy social vigilante, Robert, portrayed in “Pumped Up Kicks.” Amidst the blithe whistling and clapping, Foster sings in a jaunty falsetto about a disturbed adolescent with a conniving plot to put his detached father’s gun to good use on his peers. An alarming storyline so artfully juxtaposed against the carefree melody that even the cautionary hook, “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, better run, better run, outrun my gun,” comes off as saccharine instead of menacing.

Foster sings as though his fear of being branded will ultimately hinder their progression, just as it has for humanity. Claiming no semblance of conformity among them, the brazen triad declares, “We’ve got nothing to prove. Your social guides give you swollen eyes, but what I’ve got can’t be bought.”

It is as though Mark Foster’s name is lent to the band’s moniker not only to stake a claim, but also to state their purpose – to “encourage” or “nurture” the public to rebel against convention through any means necessary. Everyone, grab your torches.

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