Top 10 Songs of 2011 – #2: “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People

30 Dec

“Pumped Up Kicks” joins our countdown in the #2 spot despite being initially released as a single in 2010. The song was later released on the album Torches in 2011 so it is eligible for our countdown. Think of the countdown as the MLB Rookie of the Year award. “Pumped Up Kicks” did not play enough games to destroy its rookie eligibility. It, though, is certainly not a rookie song, but rather a deep glance at school shootings set to a contrasting fluffy melody. The song (and excuse my French) is a classic example of a mindf*ck.

“Pumped up Kicks,” like many great songs, was written in a few hours. Mark Foster, leadman of the group, wrote it soon after the band of three started up in 2009. The band is as follows:

Mark Foster (vocals, keyboards, piano, synthesizers, guitar, programming, percussion), Mark Pontius (drums and extra percussion), and Cubbie Fink (bass and backing vocals)

Foster, at the time, was using his multifarious musical talents writing commercial jingles at Mophonics in Log Angeles. Since he initially believed he was writing a demo he recorded all parts of the song and the song ended up going out just like that. So, pretty much, the song is an extended, very productive, morbid jingle. Another contradiction, yes. The song actually does pick up on some noticeable jingle elements, especially at the end where the song finishes off with a light Noah and the Whale whistle. A real hipster whistle.

So why is this contradictory song written by a jingle writer from Los Angeles so insanely good. Take a listen. Is it because of its lyric, its insatiable catchiness, its muffled vocal? I think the song’s popularity and goodness comes from a mixture of all of these elements, and, its absolute cleverness (or as Foster proclaimed – a “f*ck you to hispters).

The song is about a boy who finds his father’s gun and has thoughts of going on a murderous rampage (probably at school). Unfortunately, such a comment is not absurd, but rather a stark reality in our world today. Columbine-like rampages do not happen often, but they happen, and it is downright frightening to think that such a thing could/does occur. The lyrics strongest point is the chorus where Foster and the band sing:

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, You better run, better run, outrun my gun.

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, You better run, better run, faster than my bullet.

They sing this lyric over and over again, implanting it in the listener’s head. This does two things. First, it hopefully helps achieve the main message that Foster wanted people to take from the song. The song, in his eyes, is an attempt to quell such events by encouraging families and friends to provide love, support, and friendship to children who may seem isolated or violent.
The song is also witty and clever. You see, the first few times I found myself listening to the song I couldn’t quite make out the chorus. Then, one day as I was driving and listening, I found myself singing “you better run, run, run, outrun my gun” and I stopped. What did I just say? The song is a giant f*ck you to hipsters because it is a true hipster song (whatever the hell that is). It is adorned with vocal effects, strung-out keys, constant rhythm, an excellent bass, and that whistle finale. And it is utterly catchy and infectious. So you dance to the song and sing the lyric and then feel terrible for singing it.
In a way this also adds to the song’s overall effect. If Foster wanted to make people even more aware to the potential dangers of lovelessness and youthful alienation, then he did a pretty good job with this song.
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6 Responses to “Top 10 Songs of 2011 – #2: “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People”

  1. John Phillips December 30, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Made my list as well.

  2. The Boy! January 2, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    Hi Matt. I think we share quite a few musical tastes. I’m happy to have stumbled upon your blog thanks to John Phillips. I posted about Torches sometime back too. It was definitely one of the best albums of the year. It has so many cool tracks. I like Pumped Up Kicks’ acappella version more than the official. His crooning is more distinct and pleasurable there. My favorite track from the album is I Would Do Anything For You.

    • Matthew Coleman January 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

      Great call with the acoustic version. It is not as well known but a true gem. And awesome choice with “I would do anything for you.” That is one of my favorites also

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