“Torches” by Foster the People ~ Album Review

Review by James

1. Helena Beat – [9/10] – Maybe I’m being overly generous, but I love this song. The song has an overall great progression, beginning with a drum intro followed by a weird noise that sounds similar to a heartbeat. Written along Mark Foster’s teenage struggle with Hollywood’s drug and gang violence, the song is pretty powerful, though the lyrics are pretty metaphorical and take multiple listens to sink in. One of the more forthright lines features in the chorus:

“Yeah, it’s OK,

I tie my hands up to a chair so I don’t fall that way;

Yeah, it’s alright,

I took a sip of something poisoned but I’ll hold on tight”

Regarding the instrumentals… the guitars and bass are stunning – the keyboards really put together a neo-grunge, almost robotic, sort of sound I personally like a lot. The only knock this song gets is Foster’s irritating soprano. The lyrics are good, but in all honesty, they’re hard to concentrate when in the back of your mind you realize it’s a dude singing it. Other than that, it’s a solid track.


2.      Pumped Up Kicks – [10/10] – Let’s be honest here. This is the ONE Foster the People song that literally everyone knows about. Taken from the perspective of an abused teenage killer, driven to insanity. The lyrics are taken from a combination of both the Columbine High School and Westwood shootings, and are haunting once you’ve listened multiple times. Phrasing aside, the rest of the song is spectacular, but gets a little repetitive, as it’s a four-bar bassline repeated over and over for essentially the course of a four-minute song (though in my mind it doesn’t really detract from the song). The vocals on this song are much better than on Helena Beat, though the lyrics are just as good… and the guitar harmonies (man alive). Overall, one of my favorites on the album.

 3.      Call it What You Want – [8/10] – This is basically the polar opposite from their first two incredibly dark songs; a much more upbeat and fun feel, though gets kind of irritating considering the overwhelming amount of random whistles and beeps you face listening to this (more than Maroon 5, if you can believe that). The song revolves around an overly effect-heavy set of instrumentals, something I am not a huge fan of. Despite this, the song does have a pretty powerful meaning, though not quite to the extent of its predecessors. It’s essentially a jab towards society’s desire for comformity, regarding social hierarchies, cliques, etc. The “Call it What you Want” is a reference to the desire for social labels. The lyrics aren’t particularly poetic, quite literal actually. This song just BARELY makes an 8/10, but with that it’s actually not a bad song, though I wouldn’t recommend it in comparison to the first two.

 4.      Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls) – [4/10] – There are parts of this song that sound actually pretty nice, the chorus and bridge particularly, but that doesn’t really merit the rest of the song, some of which is EXTREMELY irritating. The whole song, particularly the second half, is littered with pitch-altered laughs, which isn’t creepy so much as just obnoxious, coupled with even more whistles and beeps than CIWYW, which lowers the song even more. Both the acoustic and tremolo-electric guitars are pretty alright, though the chords don’t necessarily “fit” with the general arrogant feel of the song.  I can’t genuinely recommend this song. Thankfully, it’s the shortest on the album. Pass.

 5.      Waste – [11/10] – HELL YES. This song is actually incredibly refreshing if you managed to sit through Color on the Walls, so the perfect rating is just a little bit biased. But even alone, the song is really quite good. The song gets really incredible once the first verse has passed and the chorus begins. The chorus is particularly powerful, giving the epitome of the song its true feel. The nostalgic, lovesick lyrics can be interpreted generally as two people, one of which is struggling through a harmful issue (I’ve heard anywhere from PTSD/Schizophrenia to drugs and alcohol), the other of which is attempting to help them through the issue, though the problem may potential mask itself as dislike.

“The truth cuts us and pulls us back up
And separates the things that look the same
You can fight it off, you can fight it off…”

The synthetic, bubbly sounding bassline and keyboards are incredibly crisp-sounding, bringing the song together with other more bizarre instruments like church bells, grand piano, and glockenspiel really make the song incredible. The vocals in this are just incredible, surpassing by far any other song on the album. This is THE best song on the album, no questions asked.

 6.      I Would Do Anything For You – [9/10] – Sounds like a slightly more upbeat combination of both Waste and Helena Beat. It’s an alright song, not particularly memorable but still a great track. The lyrics are without the question most literal and generally convivial on the entire album – as if the title didn’t give enough of a clue, the song is basically about a relationship that goes completely perfect. That’s about it. Not a particularly powerful song, though it’s progression and bridge particularly are quite nice. In general, it’s a fairly nondescript love song, though coming from Foster’s haunting voice the song does have that nostalgic and melancholic, yet poignant emotion that makes it another really solid track to near the end of the medium of the album.

 7.      Houdini – [9/10] – Alright, this is a funky one. The song is one of the most polished on the album, a very synth-heavy track with FtP’s indie-tech feel present throughout. What stands out the most here are the VOCALS. Both the harmonies and backing, as well as the lead vocals, even down to the stuttered vocoder adding to the percussion — make the song feel incredibly crisp and overall nice. The keyboards are OK, but a little high for my personal tastes. The lyrics are another powerful, yet mostly metaphorical, interpretation of social and peer pressure, about being afraid to stand up for yourself and/or what you believe in.

“Got shackles on, my words are tied,

Fear can make you compromise,

Lights turned up, it’s hard to hide,

Sometimes I want to disappear”


8.      Life on the Nickel – [6/10] – Not really that spectacular of a song, but that’s mostly due to its three glorious predecessors. The percussion is alright, but hurts your ears after the first minute and a half or so. Vocals are a little high, along with the synthesizer, which features an okay 8-Bit solo near the end. The non-electronic piano kind of merits the six-star rating, but this song isn’t particularly good. The song basically centers around having chances come and go across your life for money and power, but never really making it, and thus hatred for society is derivated.


9.      Miss You – [6/10] – Just another average song, more buzzed percussion that gets painful. I’m gonna assume this song was filler, just to make the album that magic number of 10. Nothing at all to say, it’s listenable but really quite boring.


10.  Warrant – [9/10] – The longest and probably most prime indie-rock track on the album, though the song is actually quite nice. It begins with an operatic intro, followed by a U2/Green Day esque styled drum and electric bass second intro, before finally venturing into the actual song, which personally is quite cool. Some of the fuzzed vocal effects are a little annoying (you’ll hear about 2/3ds through the song), but the rest of the vocals are pretty nice. The drums, guitars, and bass remain continually spectacular throughout the song, though the entire song sounds completely different from the rest of the album. Overall a solid closer, and another final great track to finish up quite a good album.


Averaged Album Rating: 8.2/10

Personal Album Rating: 8/10

Recommend? Yes

Personal Song Recommendations:

1.      Waste

2.      Pumped Up Kicks

3.      Houdini

4.      I Would Do Anything for You

5.      Helena Beat


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