Indie Pop Rediscovers a Sacred Concept

The band Foster the People suddenly shot into prominence onto the national and international scene in 2011 with the releasing of their album Torches, and especially their hit single Pumped Up Kicks, which along with Helena Beat (even achieving a place in the popular 2012 reboot comedy, 21 Jump Street) formed the basis of their reputation as a cool, alternative band with a lot of crossover appeal.

Pumped Up Kicks, like several other songs of their repertoire, is notoriously dark but catchy.  It is, with an eerie sort of prophecy considering current events, about a boy preparing a school shooting.  Helena Beat is about the drug culture of Hollywood, something that Mark Foster, the lead vocalist, detests.  The music video is about a post-apocalyptic world inhabited only by children.  Themes of love, alienation, truth, friendship, and maturity run through all their work.

Like many indie bands in the market today, Foster the People seems largely driven by their desire to make genre-bending music, all the while developing personally meaningful lyrics.  Yet there are certain leitmotifs that appear and reappear that strike me as a listener attuned to some of the more powerful symbols throughout history.

We ought not to forget to mention, by the way, that Foster the People in 2015 parted with their bassist Jacob “Cubbie” Fink, who was once a missionary in South Africa, and eventually married the extremely influential Christian artist Rebecca St. James in 2011. The extent to which the band has been influenced by Christian iconography is often understated, but it is very evident.

After having a sort of creative block after the release of their sophomore album Supermodel, Foster the People released Sacred Hearts Club in July 2017, and met with little critical success.  Average listeners, as I have read them, tend to love the album, whereas critics tend to, well, be critical of the album.

To a religiously minded reader, to release an album called Sacred Hearts Club ought to immediately trigger certain images which constitute some of the most classic themes of Christian Iconography.  The centuries old image of the Sacred Heart is extremely important to Catholics especially, as a synecdoche for the endless, burning love of Christ for all humanity.

Curiously in the above interview, Mark Foster draws inspiration from a conversation he had with a friend, a conversation he calls “ethereal”, where he is trying to put his finger on the type of relationship people have who talk about the deeper, more spiritual things in life.  His friend calls these people the “Sacred Hearts Club”, and so the name stuck.

The last track on the album, “III“, may not be inspired by Trinitarian numerology, but it’s hard not to feel that with the lyrics.  They are largely about the beauty of this life, and the yearning for transit to that new and better form of life which is eternal.

Sail on in

Beautiful is your life

Sail on in

I want to live in your love Forever

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

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

It’s hard not to get that impression with his track Doing it for the Money that they are indeed “calling all the prophets in the battle…”, in an attempt to produce a work of art more transcendent and joyful.

So while the Indie music with the Psychedelia, one of their musical trademarks, may not be your cup of tea, it’s hard to ignore that they are one of the contemporary bands out there today that are still singing about the things that make life most worth living, including things like our occasionally stupid friends and sharing life with the people you love, even wasting time with them as a token of affection.

Besides, as a person of faith, even though Foster the People may fall short of the full throated religious endorsement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, if anyone wants to be a part of the “Sacred Hearts Club”, how can we not be enthusiastic about them joining up?