Best of the B Sides: “Helena Beat”

I think the indie rock world is still feeling the effects of Foster the People‘s 2011 debut Torches. It was something refreshing and new at a time when popular music was getting just a little bit stale. “Pumped Up Kicks” is still all over the radio and we’re still not sick of it (or, I’m not). Foster the People’s latest album Supermodel came out to varied reviews, but the work they present isn’t bad. It’s hard to follow up something as exciting as Torches and keep pushing the envelope, especially when 60s and 80s influences are everywhere in music now. Synthpop is slowly taking its rightful place in the music world and when you’re the band who played a huge part in bringing that sound back to the forefront, it’s a difficult to produce the same sound without it sounding, well, the same as everyone else.

Supermodel aside, Torches was a triumph for Foster the People. “Pumped Up Kicks” is a superb single; fuzzed-out verses met by catchy, clear choruses and unique beats. It’s a fairly uncomplicated song as far as production goes, and maybe that’s why it got the attention it did. 2011 was a time when hit singles were layer after layer of sounds just filling space. Foster the People kicked that idea and kept it simple. In fact, the whole album follows this formula, and opening track “Helena Beat” really plays with the simple and the stunning.

Foster the People have a wonderful sense for rhythm that’s fairly unique. Instead of being background noise keeping time, Foster the People really accentuate their rhythm sections and make them just as important as the synth melodies. “Helena Beat” shows that style perfectly. Synth and rhythm go hand-in-hand, building up a backing for Mark Foster’s vocals that’s complex enough to be engaging and simple enough to get the listener really immersed. “Helena Beat” strips out a lot of the razzle dazzle and just leaves the good music behind. Besides, Foster’s voice is perfectly suited for synthpop. Pitched and nasaly, there are few who could fill his role. Jack Steadman of Bombay Bicycle Club probably comes closest to Foster’s voice in the indie rock scene, but Foster himself brings such a nice twist to indie rock with his voice. Foster the People could have been just another pretty-sounding synthpop band if they’d had a standard frontman, but thanks to Foster, they’ve got an edge.

“Helena Beat” has a lot of space in it, with nice use of pause. It takes song structure fairly seriously and introduces the rest of the album with aplomb. It’s a perfect precursor to “Pumped Up Kicks”, presenting the almost metallic nature of the album without being as blunt as “Houdini” or “Call It What You Want“. It’s a different track from what was popular in 2011, but “Helena Beat” was inviting and intriguing enough to make the rest of the album worth a listen. So Foster the People played their cards right.

Image courtesy of the band’s Facebook page.

3 Comments

  1. Ruby Mora

    June 30, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    I can’t believe it’s been so long since Torches was released. I remember jamming out to this single in the car after Firefly 2013 when FTP were one of the headliners. Good times. 🙂

  2. Samantha

    July 1, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    Love it! I will never get tired of “Pumped Up Kicks…”

  3. Darlene Steelman

    July 2, 2014 at 8:48 am

    I’m mostly into metal, but I really dig the stuff this band puts out.

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