Scanning headlines full of hatred, confusion, and fear, the group just wanted "to make something joyful."
When indie pop band Foster the People marched onto the music scene with their 2010 hit “Pumped Up Kicks” – a toe-tapping single that belied its dark lyrics about an isolated youth contemplating gun violence – it was definitely to the beat of their own drum.
The controversy around the song faded, but their formula of tackling big questions over bubbly music never did. When lead singer Mark Foster spoke with Paste magazine about their second album Supermodel, he admitted that a lot of “soul searching” went into it and that its religious references were very much intentional. (In “Nevermind, he sang that “it’s hard to know the truth in this post-modernist view, where absolutes are seen as relics and laughed out of the room,” and in “The Truth”: “A blinding call to prayer has touched my feet like the call of the prophets.”) “A lot of this record … a lot of it is a conversation with God,” Foster explained. “Trying to explore who God is.”
The band’s latest release, Sacred Hearts Club, only builds on that conversation. The album is an unabashedly breezy blend of pop, hip hop, and dance, and on Twitter, they admitted that their goal was just to communicate a sense of joy, love, and the beauty of life. “With this record, it’s like I felt like every morning I woke up, you know, and I would look at the headlines in the news, and there was just something catastrophic that happened,” Foster said in one interview. “I felt like on this record I really just wanted to make something joyful.”
But the title’s convergence with a Catholic devotion to the heart of Jesus also reflects something upward-looking about that joy, a theme which pops up in just about every song.
The album opens with two tracks that look like they’d be about celebrating money, but are really about surviving in a culture that celebrates it too much. “Pay the Man” has a rocky start, but before long, Foster is cruising into a butter-smooth chorus all about the love. “We’ll see the sun again,” he croons. “Before it fades, I just wanna say that I love you.”
In the second verse, he puts his cards on the table:
Call out to God, praise to the Most High
Call out for help cause I’m playing with fire
Call out to mountains till my voice goes faint
Echoes through time then goes back with new strength…
We all believe we’ve been well fed, yeah
The deaf man heard what the mute man said
Then they all followed where the blind man led
In “Doing It for the Money”, Foster pushes the theme, rallying the “poets” and “prophets” to stand for something more meaningful and lasting:
I said it doesn’t matter where I go
I am calling all the prophets into the battle
I am never going to change who I am
I won’t bend under the pressure
One of the album’s darker tracks, “Loyal Like Sid and Nancy” (a reference to Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen) takes another defiant stance against the suffocating lust for money and power. And once again, Foster looks to the language of faith to articulate it. “The criminals are laughing with their empty, toothless faces,” he chants. “We melted all our gold to recommence our idol worship.”
That’s about as serious as it gets. More often than not, we’re awash in the glow of new love (“Sit Next to Me,” “Harden the Paint,” “Static Space Lover”) or old friends (“I Love My Friends”). But even then, Foster curiously reaches for phrases like “part the sea,” “peaceful paradise,” and “praise the Lord” to set the scene. The upbeat title track (“S.H.C.”) might feel like just one more love song, but the band peppers it with a curious vocal sample (“Omnipotent”) and concludes with this: “Do you want to live forever? I would…”
These glimmers of faith converge and shine brightest in the mysteriously titled album closer “III.” Foster’s falsetto rides over the Washed Out-style chillwave like a lonely vessel, bidding farewell to the happiness of the world but still expressing the poignant desire – almost the demand – to hold on to it:
I’m done, I’m giving up control
So hold on, never let me go
I know we’re not invincible
So I want to live
Live for something more
Beautiful is your life
Soak it in
I want to live in your love forever
And I won’t be afraid it’s true we’ll never know
When the night will come and take us home
And people change, we fade from youth
And evolve into eternal life
Don’t slip away, well I’m begging you
To let me sing with angels
Wake the sleeping from their dreaming
We all want more, we all want more
Saints will sing and hearts are beating
Saying we all want more, we all want more
Sacred Hearts Club is the kind of album that’s content just to get you smiling, dancing, and singing along. But with the joy of faith so intertwined with its party atmosphere, its joy also feels that much more full.
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