Things Music Critics Hate: Foster the People, Cage the Elephant, Young the Giant, Portugal. The Man, Etc.

foster-the-people-critics-hate.jpg
Foster the People: Not bad. But also not that good.

Music criticism is as much an affliction as an occupation -- especially these days, it's far more reliable as a sickness than a paycheck. Things Music Critics Hate is an occasional series that will attempt to diagnose and explain the broadly shared beliefs and biases that shape the landscape of music criticism -- and also to discover what qualities (if any) professional observers generally agree make music good.

See also: Things Music Critics Hate: Coldplay

Let's call this group of bands "gateway indie rock with bad band names": The big dog here is obviously Foster the People, but fellow entry-level party-rockers Young the Giant, Cage the Elephant, and Portugal. The Man are all basically doing the same thing: Derivative, anthemic guitar rock built on optimistic melodies and pop-friendly arrangements. In the case of Foster the People, there's a healthy smidgen of synth-pop thrown in there for danceability points. But since you probably can't keep all these bands perfectly straight in your mind, here's a cheat sheet:

Cage the Elephant: Arctic Pixies.

Foster the People: A Maroon 5 for the flannel-and-wayfarers set.

Young the Giant: "My first indie rock band."

Portugal. The Man: Worst name, probably the best music of this group.

Critical views on these bands vary, from grudging admiration of their hooks to vicious derision of their desire to tepidly please. But even when critics acknowledge, say, the catchiness of Foster the People's blockbuster "Pumped Up Kicks," it comes with telling qualifications. The LA Times noted that "much of Torches doesn't aim much higher than being a fizzy soundtrack for windows-down elbow tans." Rolling Stone cited MGMT as a "super obvious" influence on Foster the People, and chided the band's debut album for being derivative. "As empty-headed as it is ebullient," was the UK Guardian's description of the same record.

One has to go into reviews of the other bands to uncover the really raw bile -- like Pitchfork's relentlessly scathing dismissal of Young the Giant's debut. "You almost hope Young the Giant acquiesced to some music executives' request to compromise their style, because nothing else sufficiently explains a debut so devoid of personality," went Ian Cohen's take. The website treated Portugal. The Man nicely, but couldn't help calling out its major-label debut as "generic." And while many reviewers have praised Cage the Elephant's sophomore album, Thank You Happy Birthday, it's probably not by accident that Pitchfork -- the definitive source of opinion about American indie rock -- apparently has not written a single word about this Kentucky band.

Obviously, we're dealing with a more subtle and particular brand of critical hate here than with, say, Coldplay. Few writers want to come out and blast a young band still getting its footing. And dismissing a group like Young the Giant or Foster the People risks making the professional music writer look like a grouchy oldster refusing to give the kids any credit. It's easier to simply ignore them and hope they go away.

But make no mistake: behind all those half-hearted endorsements and 2.5-out-of-four-star reviews, these bands represent a classic target of critics. Call them Champions of Vanilla -- their music is successful, decent, and sometimes surprisingly effective, and yet nearly all of it is utterly generic. Devoid of personality. Anonymous.

Up next: Why critics are different from casual fans, and equating Foster the People with masturbation.


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57 comments
dr_504
dr_504

Whoever is dissing Foster the People probably doesn't have ears. These bands without a genre just making music that connects with people is probably scary. I know good music when I hear it. I rank Torches by Foster the People up with Journey's greatest hits, I'd even compare it with the Beatles. Funny how these so called "expert" critics will diss on FTP for being redundant but won't acknowledge that any music they acclaim is absolutely no different. All music is influenced by its predecessors. Taking to the next level, innovation is the what keeps music alive and interesting. These bands are giving it their all and making great music to boot. To shame them is, well, shameful.

Hello
Hello

So, All I got from this is that I need to start listening to Portugal. The Man, as well as Cage the Elephant

Csipony
Csipony

THIS IS A LOAD OF BULLSHIT

Danoodles
Danoodles

In general, I find Foster the People to be fairly pedestrian. However, 'Pumped Up Kicks' is one of the greatest pop songs of the last 3 years. The hook is absolutely infectious and lyrically it's about as interesting as mainstream music gets. Did you know the song was about a boy killing his mother and then taking a gun to his school? Maybe you did, but the people tanning their arms out the window probably don't - and that's brilliant. How can you not hear how perfect that chorus hook is?

Kalsan
Kalsan

Top 40 bullshit masquerading as indie, unique, smart, etc. That's what these bands are.Its the American equivalent of Landfill Indie. Rubbish.

CM
CM

Considering that Portugal. The Man has more than just one album, this review is way off. I will admit that I fell for them with their Atlantic debut but I stayed for their other great music. Censored Colors is a fantastic album. I just feel as though the critic cannot completely discredit the band without listening to their other work (even though I do love In the Mountain in the Clouds). 

Guest
Guest

the same type of ANGRY reviewer, wrote an article about a small little indie singer, songwriter, blasting her for not being "creative enough" and riding on the coat tails of another known artist...and blah, blah, blah...bulllshit! And I have to come out and say, where the FUCK do you idiots who writes this shit get all the dumb ideas that come out of your mouths? STOp writing NEGATIVE reviews about indie acts that are simply trying to put food on the table! I mean, what the hell did that band/artist do to you that made you so angry? Or did your guy or girlfriend leave you while you were listening to that bands song? And now it;s conjures those bitter memories when you hear that @5dcee26f7f9ea2373403ceefd891ff22:disqus and? If that;s the case, Take it out in therapy! And not on the band! How the hell would you feel, if you were in a band and reviewers kept on attacking you like that?! For no reason at all? STOP THE INTERNET BAND HATE! You don't like a band or artist? Simply DON"T WRITE ABOUT THEM AT ALL then let the world into the piunnie bismal minds of yours. NO ONE LIKES IT ANYMORE. ANd It ISN"T COOL! And I urge everyone that reads these sort of negative reviews against bands for no reason to protest them by declining there readership. Give your allegiance and your attention to music reviewers that finds the GOOD in MUSIC, and music in general. Because at the end of the day...it is meant to 'take us away' from our problems, reality by form of " ENTERTAINMENT". So like it or not..STOP taking it so personal by launching these forms of attacks by writing negative reviews! The world will thank you for it!

THese nasty bloggers always find the nastiest things to say about artist for no reason. And no reason at all. QUIT IT! It's 2012. You guys are PART Of the problem with haterade running free and rampade over the internet! STOP DOING IT.

Beeker33
Beeker33

Im amazed at the simplistic views and cynicism Of these so called "critics". To completley discount the feeling and soul poured into the lyrics of a band like Young the Giant, is completley idiotic and unprofessional. Music critics Are what's wrong with music today , Written by the "one percent". Also unprofessional is the name calling Of these nay Sayers. I mean, "my first Indie band"? Lets be grown ups. "Bringgg,bringgg. Hello music critics? Yea its kindergarden, we would like our petty squabbles and lunch money back." When was the last time you wrote a successful Album hmmmm??????

Guest
Guest

This article is complete bullsh*t...Foster the people are the best band you will be blessed to listen to...they've taken all the different styles of music and perfected them. I'm glad they didn't win a Grammy in 2012 because lets face it with people like Bon Iver mumbling his sorrows and the screaming Foo fighters, just the washed up remains of other bands...the grammy are not an accurate reflection on music. Mark Foster is the definition of musical genius.

Jeff
Jeff

Woahh there people. I undertand why you all may not like this guy but he is a music critic, possibly went too far with it, but if you have listened to all the bands i can understand where he is coming from. You people may just be hardcore foster the people fans, doesnt mean you can hate on him.

Ethan Ryan
Ethan Ryan

The music review world has gone to shit. The moron at Rolling Stone that reviewed 'Torches' sounded more like a 15 year old with a fuckin' thesaurus at hand than a professional writer. God knows why you quoted anything he said about the band from that article, in this article.

The industry has completely forgotten what good music is. Were all so brainwashed on this bullshit we call music now-a-days that when good bands such as the ones mentioned in this article do come along --that are nothing like the day-to-day norm-- they're completely shit on by every big magazine and website because they don't quite match all the other pop-glamor bull shit.

And for all you "professional" reviewers out there, here's tip number one. If your already listening to 'Teenage Dream' on your drive to work fantasizing about your high school girl, turn your piece of shit Honda around and find a new profession. Please. It'll make everyone's day a little easier to not have to read your clearly biased and truly un-clever reviews.

Jobara
Jobara

Writing these bands off after their first albums is akin to rejecting the Beatles after "I want to hold your hand".  Even Led Zeppelin was poorly reviewed on their first album by Rolling Stone magazine later to consider them the "best R&R band ever".  This embarrassment has followed RS over the years.  

Another laugh is Pitchfork and the Guardian critics rating Lana del Rey's "Video Games" as one of the best songs of 2011.  She just laid an egg on Saturday Night Live this weekend.  Are critics telling us that "Video Games" is a more worthy listen than YTG's brilliant "Strings" or "I Got"???  Or even any of the songs on CageTE's first album???  Why is it when Jay-Z takes the heart of another song, for instance, "Hard Knock Life", wraps around it, and calls it his own, critics laud it as "brilliant and original".  Same goes for Kanye's Daft Punk's "Stronger".  Jay-Z and Kanye deserve some credit but "originality" is certainly not one of them.  Meanwhile Foster the People is rejected as another Maroon 5 (and by the way, Maroon 5 was rejected as just another Jamiroquai.)  Bottom line:  critics know no more than anyone else, they are in the pockets of record companies, and in fact, are several steps behind the general public.

Ellory Jackson
Ellory Jackson

OH for God's sake (to the people jumping to defend these bands and insulting the writer).

Don't be so stupid. These bands are temporary and terrible. 'Foster The People'? Jesus.

Yes, I get it- you are 17, have internet access and an opinion about terrible, fist-in-the-air pop music. But consider this- internet comments potentially stay online for A LONG TIME. You might stumble across this blog in 8 years, and be extremely embaressed by defending such ridiculous, transient pop music.I used to like the band LIVE, for fuck's sake. 

oldbird
oldbird

I want to be just like you.I've got these pictures keep on rolling around my head.I want to hang them on the wall above my bed.And it's so easy to step aside and walk in line like all the rest.But IQ never did that well on tests.I don't watch TV cause it's just a box of lies.It makes me want to stick a tooth pick in my mind.While the world goes down the drain I eat my popcorn from the bag.Some people say that I've gone mad.You're so cool.I wanna be just like you.You're so cool.

Jack
Jack

I couldn't Disagree more.  Ian S Port and these other mindless music critics have zero sense of place.  Just RELAX.  There is a time a place for different types of Good Music.  Young the Giant is Great Music for roadtrips, lounging and I like it while programming at night.  I'm just as obsessed with Radiohead and the Beatles as the next guy but dismissing these bands (especially YTG) because they're not at adventurous as others is ridiculous.  YTG’s entire first album is full beautiful music and I highly recommend the album to everyone.  

YTG enjoys making music that sounds like “eternal summer” and that is exactly what you get.  I don’t want to hear faster base beats or  experimental distortions when I’m listening to YTG.  I’m impressed their entire first album is full of different types of songs with classical-flavors and they’re only 19-20 yrs old!       

Try to be more objective next time. 

James Piechura
James Piechura

This comment thread should be re-titled Bitter Fans Of Shitty Music.

noith
noith

I think that this person is jealous of the bands that have managed such a great fanbase.

fthon
fthon

First of all: it's Lady Gaga. Not Lada Gaga.Most importantly, I don't think you have knowledge about music.

la-underground
la-underground

The anger and hatred in the comments of this article actually make us want to listen to these bands now. Excellent PR work, Ian.

doesitmakeyoufeelalright
doesitmakeyoufeelalright

I can't stand people who think that their opinion of music is so much better that everybody else's when really they're just an over-glorified hipster.

Wait, let me rephrase that - I can't stand this guy. Ha, I'd love to see this guy even try to write an album. Instead, he goes out of his way to write a bad review on a couple of bands that have such a strong fan base that no one could give a tiny rat's ass as to what he thinks.

mike n
mike n

Dude, what kind of drugs did you take before writing this? You should listen to the music of Portugal. The Man before lumping them in with other bands that have 'the' in their names.

P.TM is one of the best, most talented/unique, hardest working bands in the history of rock-n-roll.

Guest
Guest

Dear Close-Minded Individual,I want to know what motivates someone to write something about something they don't like to write about. It is the equivalent of a 13 year old girl who is insecure about herself updating a status about how much she hates people who are fake and ignorant. Please explain this irony.Thanks, Everyone

Josh G
Josh G

People like what the want to like. Is some of the music those bands make a little derivative? Yes, but what band/singer doesn't throw in little bits of music they like/inspires them into their work? 

I love Cage the Elephant (and since Foo Fighters hand picked them to go on tour with them they're obviously doing something right musically) and Portugal. The Man. Young the Giant is a strong young group that puts on a great live show. I don't know much about Foster the People but the way you dismiss the other three bands, that have clear talent and audiences that love them and are seeing booming popularity, makes me think they are a band I would enjoy.

The critic seems so focused on hating things that are popular that this post borders on absurd; he even throws in faint praise to Lady Gaga, Rhianna and Katy Perry just to throw off the trail. If you don't like what's being played and want to hear "challenging" and "difficult" music by "bands that can't clear their rent checks" then go to local clubs and see those bands. But failing to appreciate, at least 3 of, 4 young bands because you think you're above their style intellectually is ridiculous. 

coren
coren

Is everything indie now?  Seriously, can a new band get popular and not be called "indie"?  How do you even define it - or is it just a convenient catch-all so music critics can be pedantic?

Also, it seems like Portugal. The Man was just included in this article for the hell of it - there's what, 3 or 4 sentences about them and paragraphs about what other people think.  Actually, that seems pretty true of all the bands here.  This is more a compilation of other people's opinions than it is an actual article/op-ed on music.  If I gave a shit what Pitchfork thought, I'd be reading Pitchfork.

Mitchell
Mitchell

what an ass hat. Young the giant is easily one of the best up and coming bands on the market right now. if they can even be called up and coming anymore. i will continue to buy their albums, merch, and concert tickets, and never take your advice on music choice. 

Hannah Laudi
Hannah Laudi

What's the point of music critics? More importantly what is the point of you? People are going to listen to what they like, and nothing you say is going to change that. Nobody gives a fuck about what you think. These "weirder, more challenging, more original, and better-in-every-conceivable-way artists" aren't playing music we like, get over it. And as Young the Giant so eloquently put it they've got more creativity in their pinky finger than you do in your whole existence.

BrainForest
BrainForest

Why waste your time telling us what you don't like.  How bout suggest to us some good music instead of telling us what you think we shouldn't listen to.

Adam Hartbrayker Barnett
Adam Hartbrayker Barnett

I do want to say, as a music editor for a magazine myself, I hate Foster the People. I do not go out of my way to listen to something "generic;" I do wish that the more obscure things would come out into the light once in a while, but you sir, clearly do not understand the concept of popular music and what the general public enjoys. People don't want to listen to strange noises coming out of a cello over voices slightly imperfect singing cryptic lyrics that boil down to global truths. People want music as entertainment, something to dance to, something easily relatable. In the sense that you don't want a text book in college to be complicated for the sake of being complicated, most people don't want to waste their normal-people time on dissecting art. As music critics, it's our job to do so; it's our passion. But complaining about bands being popular? You're just being a whiny elitist. Then it gets into critiquing music as a form of entertainment balanced with critiquing it as a form of art. You're writing a review for people who look at it both ways, which means you have to see it from both sides before you make a fair criticism. In the case of Foster the People, it's fucking boring. Mumford and Sons is super, duper shitty, but the band does a good job translating what should be pop music into a consumerist folk-pop medium, even though it sucksAnd talking about bad band names? Really? I've never spoken to a band who actually thinks a band name matters; half of them don't even want to talk about their band names. I do my fair share of complaining that these bands are as big as they are, but I acknowledge that their popularity makes sense.That said, this was well-written.

wow
wow

your truly an idiot

lance
lance

Fail review is fail. 

Kmcnei4
Kmcnei4

You might want to spend less time being a pretentious douche, and more time copy editing your shitty articles: "(You might think mainstream pop is similar in this way, but it isn't: Lada Gaga, Rihanna, and even Katy Perry give the chin-scratchers plenty of aesthetic fat to chew.)"

Nix
Nix

Oh hey Ian, 

You're a dick.

Sincerely, A true music lover

dr_504
dr_504

@Kalsan mind sharing what music you like?

dr_504
dr_504

@Guest Mark Foster is a musical genius. That is exactly correct. 

Ethan
Ethan

Couldn't have said it better. I guess Foster the People were just so bad that they were given the opportunity to play with the beach boys. Living legends. Lol the author of this article is a dumbass.

Guyeri2ck
Guyeri2ck

I admit to liking foster the people, but to say I am a "hardcore fan"? I think not. I will however say that I am an advocate for music writers ceasing to write such negative reviews about bands simply because it doesn't appeal to their day to day taste buds. You gotto get off it at some point. Or find another profession if all you can see is fault all the time.

dr_504
dr_504

@Ellory Jackson Mind telling us what music you listen to?

Vince
Vince

This kind of music has become increasingly trendy with the kids who now dress farmers. It's great music and well put together....I just think there has been an recent over-saturation of music like this in pop culture.

 

Just my opinion.

Great musicians.

Wicked annoying though.

Jaul
Jaul

Gloriouslly written by another idiot. So the heck what if fans like a band so much they want to come to their defense. These writers take too much free liberty to say whatever offensive thing they want about bands. And have to take "most of it" quietly for PR sake. So if the fans want to become their mouth piece for these idiot writters. Let them! And i highly doubt, because if a fan writes a comment about a band now, and looks back years later, they're going to live in regret of those defending comments. So what? It's not like they were defending porn! Point is this. If writers such as these don't like the fans outrage then the answer is simple. Stop writing outrageous things that you know is going to automatically cause onslot and a backlash with the fans and general public.

You dont' make any sense pal.

Destiny
Destiny

wow, you are extremely close minded. fuck off. 

Guest
Guest

Very, very true. You should take a listen to another review written by other idiots on altsounds. type in the word vieem. It's jack asses like that that makes me love her music even more. The moron who wrote the article couldn't even be create enough to find a better angle to blast this poor artist. He had to steal it from another blogger...which ironically the blogger was saying something "positive" about the artist. I mean, the review was so filthy for no reason at all. It intrigued me to learn and listen to this artist's music all the more. Thank goodness, I make up my own decision. Because upon listening to the song..I found that I enjoyed her music so much I bought her album. So to confirm? We thank you idiot reviewers out there that write so much hostile reviews, that just probes us listeners to purchase. So much for your smear and destroy campaigns. I hope those band ride those negative reviews to the  laughs all the way to the charts.

Ryan
Ryan

Don't know what that was supposed to mean but I'm pretty sure you guys commented on the Pumped Up Kicks Vimeo video with "nicely done"

Ellory
Ellory

You are seriously, seriously, seriously a complete dick.

bob_pot_rambo
bob_pot_rambo

@Adam Hartbrayker Barnett

People don't want to listen to strange noises coming out of a cello over voices slightly imperfect singing cryptic lyrics that boil down to global truths. People want music as entertainment, something to dance to, something easily relatable.

Have you ever heard of Arthur Russel? Broaden your musical knowledge a bit and then let us known how awesome foster the pee-hole's forgettable drivel is.  

Albrook128
Albrook128

People automatically did not want to listen to the strangest noises awkwardly resonating from The Cure, and R.E.M. etc. So what? Foster the People's lyrics and everything thereafter from this band JUST STARTING are so far ahead of today. People DO want to listen to strange lyrics even if they´re say..."he so cute..." "...but did I hear that part right.." It´s refreshing. Explain the concept of popular music so that we may be enlightened and just call it what you want.. .

Guest
Guest

Guest0 minutes agoin reply to fthonVery, very true. You should take a listen to another review written by other idiots on altsounds. type in the word VIEEM. It's jack asses like that that makes me love her music even more. The moron who wrote the article couldn't even be create enough to find a better angle to blast this poor artist. He had to steal it from another blogger...which ironically the blogger was saying something "positive" about the artist. I mean, the review was so filthy for no reason at all it intrigued me to learn and listen to this artist's music all the more. Thank goodness, I make up my own decision. Because upon listening to the song..I found that I enjoyed her music so much I bought her album. So to confirm? We thank you idiot reviewers out there that write so much hostile reviews that just probes us listeners to purchase. So much for your smear and destroy campaigns. I hope those band ride those negative reviews all the way to the charts.

bob_pot_rambo
bob_pot_rambo

@Albrook128 

Listen to more music that isn't top 40.  And stop sharing your underdeveloped musical opinions on the internet, all of you. 

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