Even with a now distant past as a jingle writer, pivoting towards poppier fare seemed like a natural progression for Mark Foster of Foster The People. But six years on from their signature hit ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, notions of existentialism and dislocation still throb in the veins of their restless indie electronica. With their third album Sacred Hearts Club, Foster still seems capable of sparking both thoughtful retort and rave-worthy pop.
An EP titled III released at the beginning of the summer offered fans an idea of what the new record would offer with ‘Pay The Man’ and ‘Doing It for the Money’ once again striving for conceptualisation but further analysis finds Foster offering hope in trying times even if the lines sometimes sound like they’re lifted from motivational posters (‘It’s time to leave the future with the past’). But musically Foster’s algorithm for success in embellishing the bare beat from the floor up works well once more. A skittering hip-hop vibe persists on ‘Pay The Man’ before the track flowers during the chorus. ‘Doing It for the Money’ follows a similar trajectory; the breezy, bristling production finds a worthy ally in Foster’s spirited lyricism.
Elsewhere, maturity and more complex ideas are at the forefront of the band’s new material. Over a jaunty beat and funk-lite guitar, Foster extends a hand of platonic friendship to an ex-lover on ‘Sit Next To Me’. And on the infectious Strokesy ‘Lotus Eater’, Foster portrays an all-too familiar millennial; the hesitant introvert trapped in a monotony of a shallow soiree (‘I’m sorry I was late, I didn’t wanna come’). Throughout there are clear nods to the band’s biggest influences. The Beach Boys inform the twinkly Jena Malone-featuring ‘Static Space Lover’ and shards of MGMT appear in the album’s overall psychedelic feel. ‘Harden the Paint’s’ metallic exterior seemingly owes much of its DNA to the likes of the fluid Phantogram and Grimes.
Perhaps the biggest grasp for imitation comes midway through the record on ‘I Love My Friends’ where the band do their best to impersonate themselves. The ductile bassline, cheery falsettos and Foster’s muffled vocal all point to their magnum opus ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ as a reference point even if the subject matter is significantly more upbeat. That notion of looking back to move forward serves Foster well for the most part- SHC is certainly more Torches than it is Supermodel. But crucially they’ve eschewed some of that energy, replacing it with more insightful songwriting. Foster detaches himself cleverly from the narrative of some of his tracks, allowing the listener to latch onto the arc more effectively. Even if their new material is more obviously poppy, Foster has left himself in a flexible position. With newfound purpose thriving beneath the glossy surface of SHC, Foster The People are free to embark on an endless list of viable artistic pivots without alienating their core fanbase.