Album Review: Foster the People – ‘In the Darkest of Nights, Let the Birds Sing’ (EP)


If I had to think of one word to describe this six-song EP, the word that comes to mind is masterpiece. Although being well-known for their hit 2011 single ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ which shot the group into the spotlight, In the Darkest of Nights, Let the Birds Sing expresses a different, more intimate side to the alternative group. The EP demonstrates the group expanding their style into the genre of psychedelic-pop, with their lyrics emphasising this more raw, personal side, something that was previously limited to listeners on previous tracks. In an interview, Mark Foster claimed: “I think this EP is really a reflection of everything Foster the People has touched on sonically from the beginning…It spans genres, pulls from different areas of music. The songs, lyrically – it was important for me to be really authentic. Love is arguably the most powerful thing on earth. All these songs are about a different facet of love.” The profuse use of the 80s-esque style alongside listening to all these songs in order provide listeners the opportunity to delve into the narrative of a protagonist experiencing different aspects of love from the blossoming of a relationship to grasping the concept of losing a loved one. To date, this is Foster the People’s strongest set of tracks, emphasising their new, polished style with influences from film music, 80s, as well as pushing the boundaries of what is a typical

The EP begins strongly with the upbeat song ‘Walk with a Big Stick’, which demonstrates the group delving into their new, experimental style. Just from the title of the track, listeners can most likely guess what the song is referring to. Nevertheless, there is emphasis on this confident, witty nature of a protagonist, highlighted by this groove in the walking bass line and sparse guitar chords. There appears to be a Beach Boys-esque feel about the track with the vocal harmonic interludes as well as the laid-back guitar-driven melodic-writing. This song definitely has the capability of being one of the more-popular tracks off the EP. Following on is ‘Cadillac’, which lyrically appears to deal with the protagonist somewhat worshipping and wishing to do adventurous activities with their love interest. The song has similar, sparse guitar chords as heard in the previous track with a pervading bass line throughout and Foster’s vocal harmonies. However, listening to the track, it feels like it is missing something. Particularly in the chorus with “you’ve been lifted up”, the group possibly could’ve gone further to emphasise these lyrics with a counter-melody in another instrument or just promoted this idea of driving through more dimension and space. Apart from this, the song is still pleasurable to listen to but falls short to being considered a big hit in comparison to something like ‘Sit Next to Me’ off their 2017 album.

‘These songs provide listeners the opportunity to delve into the narrative of a protagonist experiencing different aspects of love.’

In comparison, ‘Lamb’s Wool’ completely stands out against the rest of the tracks on this EP. The song is truly one of a kind with its raw, personal outpour of emotion through not only the lyrics but the beautiful instrumentation. The lyrics emphasise the idea of coming to grips with the loss of a loved one, highlighted particularly with the chorus “when I’m quiet on the other side know that I’m loving you”. The melodic writing of the vocal line is one that really permeates this feeling, with the chorus highlighting Foster’s incredible range, particularly on the words “loving you” which are held and rise in pitch, almost emphasising the image of this protagonist desperately trying to get through to their lost love. Throughout the track you can hear and feel this almost heart-breaking, lonely essence from Foster’s vocals, particularly expressed through the accompaniment. The track begins merely with this filtered solo piano line, seeming to listeners that it is off in the distance before becoming clearer once the percussion joins, immediately setting up this isolated feeling that we are peering into the deepest thoughts of this protagonist. The song also features panned synthesised sounds which further provides this aspect of space and dimension. Foster ends the song beautifully, implementing strings in the instrumental section alongside the original piano melody. Personally I find the song ends without a sense of finality due to the final line being “things will change but you’ll be alright”, which is followed by four synthesised notes, as if leaving the listener questioning whether this protagonist will heal over time and come to grips with this new reality. All in all, this track is one that demonstrates the groups polished, new sound throughout exhibiting essences of this sublime nature alongside a cinematic approach to song-writing.

‘The Things We Do’ comes after this emotional ballad and is by far the most heavy-synthesised track on the EP. Sorting this song into a genre, I’d say it borders electronic and future-esque pop as a result of Foster pushing the boundaries of typical song-writing. The song alludes to the groups previous 2017 album where tracks such as ‘Harden the Paint’ and ‘Doing it for the Money’ implemented more heavy use of experimentation with synths. Analytically, what drives the song is this addictive, rhythmic beat accompanied by a deep, synth-bass. Yet, musically, the interesting thing about this track is Foster’s purposeful inclusion of auto-tune on his vocals near the end and partially in the chorus. The use of this technique in the chorus particularly makes this section of the song pop, with the words ‘all alone’ being heavily emphasised by the main synthesiser accompanying Foster’s altered vocals.

‘Under the Moon’ stylistically greatly contrasts with the previous tracks, heavily drawing on this cinematic, narrative approach to song-writing. The verses contain this almost Tarantino-esque element with Foster’s deep vocals, accompanied by these sly guitar melodies and bass movement. What really provides this cinematic quality to the track is the musical texture, where initially the song begins minimally with a guitar line, bass, percussion and the inclusion of a few synths. Yet, as the track progresses, the instrumentation thickens with the inclusion of strings near the end alongside these heavy, beautifully blended synth sounds. As well as this, the song ends with this utterly raw side to the protagonist – the sense of desperation. In comparison to ‘Lamb’s Wool’ there is a different type of desperation emphasised in this track, it’s more obvious and helpless, where the protagonist wants the person they’re singing to to hear these cries whereas previously it was more personal, possibly indicating how they wanted to keep those thoughts to themselves. This is evident with the line “can you see the moon tonight”, which is sung multiple times before Foster completely strains his voice to highlight this character pouring his heart and soul into these lyrics. Personally, I believe this song is Foster’s best vocals, demonstrating his incredible ability with range, power and stability.

“There is something for all types of listeners on this EP, whether you’re looking for something to unwind to after a long day of working or a song to blast in your car as you drive off into the night.”

The EP ends with ‘Your Heart is my Home’, arguably one of the weaker tracks on the EP. The song can be described as Foster’s take on ‘Wouldn’t it be Nice’ by the Beach Boys, with the opening of each verse being “wouldn’t it be nice…”. In this case, the song opens with this repetitive, rising synth melody, alluding to music taken straight out of a retro video-game. Comparing this track with the previous songs, it sounds like a culmination of all the experimental styles heard in the other songs. As well as this, lyrically the song falls a little short where it is not as poetic as something like ‘Lamb’s Wool’ or ‘Under the Moon’. Instead there is a more innocent, straight-forward approach where the protagonist is expressing the idea of being in a state of euphoria, where he is living the dream just by simply being with his loved one. The ending of this song is affective in rounding off the whole EP. It features an instrumental section, proceeding the final line “just be with me”, which is comprised of a walking bass line accompanied by a synthesised riff. Stylistically, I find this is the perfect way to end this whirlwind of a narrative, where the texture diminishes through instruments dropping out and the listener is left just with this synthesised riff, possibly representing the fact that this protagonist has come to the featuring an instrumental section which spans for around a full minute, made up of just this walking bass line accompanied by a synthesised riff. It provides a sense of finality to the EP, where the texture diminishes as instruments start dropping out and leaves the listener feeling accomplished as the protagonist has got to a point where they feel so at ease with love after getting through this whirlwind of a narrative.

All in all, I believe this EP is Foster the People’s best work to date. Although embarking on a new journey with experimentation in their artistry, these six tracks clearly demonstrate the group’s ability in continuing to produce tracks listeners can’t help but be drawn to and transfixed by. There is something for all types of listeners, whether you’re looking for something to unwind to after a long day or a song to blast in your car as you drive off into the night. This EP is certainly one not to miss if you’re bored of the typical four-chord pop songs and want to expand your music library with tracks that are meaningful, powerful and overall a work of art.

You can listen to the EP here:

Image: Mark Foster at Bilbao BBK Live 2014 via WikiMedia Commons

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