New Music Tuesday: Foster the People • Tycho • Black Lips • Freddie Gibbs and Madlib • The War on Drugs

New Music Tuesday: Foster the People, Tycho, The War on Drugs, Black Lips, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

Foster the PeopleSupermodel

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Are You What You Want to Be?”
“Coming of Age”
“Pseudologia Fantastica”

Album Highlights: It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost three years since Foster the People released its Grammy-nominated debut Torches on Isaac Green’s Startime International. Since then, bandleader Mark Foster and his sidekicks — bassist Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius — have become some of music’s biggest road warriors, playing as many as 295 shows in a 16-month span, thanks, in large part, to the buzz that surrounded the group’s breakthrough single “Pumped Up Kicks.” While the breezy, yet gloomy song would quickly pave the road to success for Foster the People, it was only natural to wonder if the trio would hit another home run the next time it went into the studio. But on Supermodel, there are no “Pumped Up Kicks” to hype — even the album’s first single “Coming of Age” doesn’t compare.

Instead, Foster opted to take the concept album route this time around, using society’s obsession with pop culture as his songwriting vehicle for Supermodel. What results is a 12-track LP that may not rise to the top of the Billboard charts this year, but certainly still has its moments. “Are You What You Want to Be?” opens the record with a strong chorus hook, and “Pseudologia Fantastica” a few songs later shows Foster expanding his horizons as he flirts with psychedelic rock. Although the rest of the album doesn’t offer much in the way of highlights, Supermodel has enough to keep some FTP fans mildly interested.

Album Lowlight: While you have to give Foster the People credit for not writing the same album all over again, not every song works here. On “Nevermind,” Foster reflects on life with lines like “Yeah it’s hard to know the truth / in this post-modernist view / where absolutes are seen as relics / and laughed out of the room,” but the song never builds into much more than a commentary on modern-day materialism.

“A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon,” meanwhile, sees Foster the People delve deeper into its electronic roots, but this time, it’s Foster’s falsetto that feels out of place — just as his acoustic offerings “Goats in Trees” and “Fire Escape” do later, too. We won’t necessarily go so far to say that these tracks are downright unlistenable, but it’s also clear that Supermodel doesn’t finish the same way it starts.

Takeaway: Foster the People most likely won’t be earning any Grammy nominations for Supermodel, but that doesn’t mean its sophomore effort should be considered a complete failure, either. Writing an exceptional concept album is not an easy task to accomplish (just ask The Who or Pink Floyd), and the band undoubtedly took a major risk in trying to do so. Nevertheless, Foster has shown recently that he’s more than a capable songwriter, and Supermodel should only help him continue to grow and mature as one.

~Josh Herwitt


3.5-BamsTop Tracks:

Album Highlights: Tycho used to solely be the moniker of audiovisual musician, designer & performer Scott Hansen, but now the name also applies to the entire three-piece based out of San Francisco/Sacramento. Bassist Zac Brown helped create initial ideas and develop songs for Awake, and Rory O’Connor helped percussions flourish in the studio, but Hansen produces it all as he did before. This group coalescing has made Tycho’s music more powerful and efficient, successfully creating a record that is “about an arc of energy and emotion across the record.

Song titles are simple, expressive and always a single word, with positive connotations that aptly reflect the music. “Awake” begins the album with uplifting ease, staying steady while conveying a harmonious tone that lasts throughout. “Apogee” certainly mimics the feeling of reaching a high point, and “Plains” puts the record to bed with the first true dose of ambiance, imagineering a magnificent open terrain. There is a healthy balance with this record that threads kinetic propulsion and exploratory, euphoric plateaus, both separately and most thrillingly at the same time.

The overall tone and much of the auditory formula is similar to Tycho’s previous album Dive, as it marries ambient euphoria and a driving beat. This new effort is more straightforward and less meandering, and it is more immediate with stronger moments of contrast. There are virtually no “downtempo” sections on Awake, yet it is minimalist in some key ways — there are no more samples, female vocals, or distractions from Hansen’s stated focus.

What’s new this time is, first and foremost, clapping. That organic hand sound is found on most tracks, which provides much of the leading energy on the record. “See” begins with a reverbed hand-clap for almost eight measures, setting up one of the album’s finest songs. The penultimate track “Spectre” utilizes all the best parts of Tycho’s new sound, with a roller coaster of highs and lows, both in volume and intensity. “Montana”, so cinematic in nature, also represents the new album fittingly with its intense beats per minute while still projecting a soothing, pleasurable sound.

Album Lowlight: Fans of lyrics and singing of said lyrics will likely be disappointed. But as Hansen said in one of his Reddit IAMAs, the lack of lyrics “doesn’t define, it implies.” Some might call it repetitious, but the record thrives as if Hansen found a pressure point of sound that extracts overwhelming auditory pleasure, then he honed and expanded on it, allowing the listener to bathe in it while not allowing moments to pass ephemerally. That established, two more tracks could have even made Awake even more enjoyable.

Takeaway: Awake is a cohesive effort, one with an accessible goal that is achieved in breathtaking fashion. This output continues the path Tycho was on, yet Hansen takes it to the next level at the same time. Somehow effectively having his cake and eating it too, Hansen’s new sound isn’t a right or left turn, but an upward one, showcasing a band in full bloom. It’s pretty special for an album to be so peaceful in its tone yet still upbeat, forward-moving and constantly inspiring, creating a window to a world that magnifies your own state of mind. Music that’s accessible to electronic, post-rock and jam band fans is rare, and it’s fair to say this feat is accomplished with Tycho’s fourth LP. Yet, if you like all three of these musical categories, prepare for a visceral treat.

Tycho is performing Thursday at the Fillmore in SF, but it’s been sold out for months. Fear not! Hansen, Brown and O’Connor will be performing at Amoeba in San Francisco on Saturday at 2 p.m. PT for free.

~Mike Frash

Black LipsUnderneath the Rainbow

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Drive-by Buddy”
“Boys in the Wood”

Album Highlights: Black Lips’ new album Underneath the Rainbow continues in the band’s punk rock tradition but shows a great new direction. Considered Atlanta’s bad boys for the last 15 years, the band has now crafted a unique blend of garage-punk rock with blues-y undertones. The new album is partially produced by The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney as well as Tommy Brenneck and Ed Rawls. Carney’s influence is apparent in an album that incorporates a strong blues feel and a bit of a pop element.

Album Lowlight: The album is short. Just over 30 minutes, it’s quick and fun but concise. The album also feels torn at moments, somewhat unsure of what it is. While surprises are welcome, at moments its hard to imagine how some of the tracks are on the same album.

Takeaway: It’s exciting to watch the band grow in this new direction. The album feels very “Black Lips” southern twang right off the bat with “Drive-by Buddy” and lo-fi affectation throughout the album. But we see a departure from what we know Black Lips to be — the band has become more refined, more playful with this album that’s more grounded in roots & country music than before. It’s a great blend from a band that is in a cradle of mishmash themselves, being punk rockers from the South.

~Katy Meacham

Freddie Gibbs and MadlibPiñata

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“High” featuring Danny Brown

Album Highlights: Gary, Indiana, rapper Freddie Gibbs and California hip-hop producer and musician Madlib have collaborated on a 17-track behemoth of an album that has many highs and lows while calling on the talents of some of today’s hottest MCs. Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, Domo Genesis, Scarface, and BJ the Chicago Kid are just a few of the guests to appear on this album. And they bring the goods.

Entirely produced by Madlib, this album is filled to the brim with some of the freshest hip-hop beats I’ve heard in a while. Nearly every track on this album has a beat so raw, so thick, that you can’t help but bob your head, despite some of the lackluster rhymes that are being spit. More on that later…

The guest spots on this album are incredibly strong. Danny Brown, Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis all kill it. “High” featuring Danny Brown is an instant classic and belongs on everyone’s green-friendly playlist.

Album Lowlight: I like my hip-hop with intelligence behind it. There are a few times when this album gets a little too “gangster” for me. You can only drop so many n-bombs before it becomes excessive. You can only rap about bitches and hoes so many times before it loses its luster. “Scarface” as the second track completely takes the wind out of the sails, and it’s too bad because of the greatness that is to come later on Piñata.

Takeaway: This is a very strong record, despite a few bumpy patches. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib would have a strong record even if you removed the numerous guest appearances. However, it is the guest spots that make this record. Check this album out if you are digging hip-hop these days — you may just love it.

~Kevin Raos

The War on DrugsLost in the Dream

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Red Eyes”
“Eyes to the Wind”
“In Reverse”

Album Highlights: It’s refreshing to know you are listening to a top album of the year within a dozen listens, and that’s what we have here, folks. There truly is a lot to say about Adam Granduciel and The War on Drugs as following up the 2011 release Slave Ambient was no easy task, yet Lost in the Dream takes us deeper into the rabbit hole via blindingly lush arrangements, among other notable attributes. A cornucopia of influences (see: Bruce, Petty and Dylan) are perfectly melded here, as nods to truly great classic rock are abound, utilized in a contemporary manner which only The War On Drugs seem to constantly achieve.

Granduciel knows how to structure albums with the best of them – this acutely demonstrated via the nine-minute, sprawling opener “Under the Pressure”. This opener showcases a strong, constructive aspect through a plethora of synths that may temporarily transport you to a few decades past. First single “Red Eyes” keeps on a similar path as we sink deeper in, bobbing along to the pounding drum machine that has been a constant over the years for the Philly-based band. “Disappearing” takes us soaring above the clouds as we hear new, thrilling piano instrumentation with warm bass lines, creating a sense of weightlessness and flight. An extremely strong finishing track, “In Reverse,” perfectly captures the fleeting minutes on this release before jarring us back into a slightly crueler reality. I’ll leave you with this lyric off the closer, “We’re just living in the moment / Making our path / losing our grasp / through the grand parade.”

Album Lowlight: Honestly, there isn’t much to report about in this department. There was a little more edginess to Slave Ambient that could have had a place somewhere in this handful of tracks, but the cleaned-up facade lends to the act’s maturity. It’s kinda the WOD style to include a filler track, “The Haunting Idle,” but there’s plenty to stick your teeth into with the other nine standout tracks.

Takeaway: Lost in the Dream has garnered much buzz before it’s true release, and for good reason, as The War on Drugs are ready to take the next step into the spotlight, creeping out of the darkness. This next step was achieved by former member, Kurt Vile, so it was only a matter of time before The War On Drugs broke to the next level; they’ve sold out the major demographics on this upcoming spring tour weeks in advance. When a truly inspired artist borrows from the past while looking to the future, the outcome can be something fully new and exciting, which is what we have here.

The brilliance in Granduciel lies in his delivery, both musically and lyrically, crooning about the sometimes-not-so-simple intricacies of existence. Life, love and everything else in between can be tricky, yet Granduciel calmly assures us that things can work out. The long play of this record is so rewarding and grows with hopes that more can be brought into the light. Oh, and that the state rock and roll is just fine.

~Kevin Quandt


  1. I actually love the new FTP album and how varied it is. It’s so good! I’ve been in love with it since I heard Coming of Age–it’s a great song with a great music video.

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