On the Radio: Pumped Up Kicks

Recently when my brother finally came to visit my hot as hell state, we painted my deck and did some driving around town talking and listening to the radio. (The visit was too short. I wish we didn’t live so far apart.) More than once while driving, we heard Foster the People’s “Pumped-up Kicks”.

As I often wonder about songs that get under my skin, what makes them work? This song’s attractiveness starts with its muffled bass line—it walks smoothly around, it makes you move with it. The overall sonic atmosphere of the song is well balanced. When the vocal comes in through the old-school radio effects, I almost reject it for trying too hard to be cool.

The vocal contrast with the chorus breaks down my resistance. The chorus does what any good chorus should do: it makes you sing along. There are a few layers of harmonies (listen carefully, there is a nice falsetto track). Handclaps? Check. Effective Repetition (it makes you want more). Check. The rest of the song has a nice snare-snap, whistling, a repetition of the chorus with just bass and hand-claps. How could I hate this song? Whistling!

I resisted it at first because I worried about the hipster-effect: “All the other kids with the pumped-up kicks?” Who the hell calls sneakers “kicks” anymore except for someone trying to sound cool or retro? That was my first response. I tried to hate the song. But then I kept listening. The song is about gun violence? Yes, socially conscious and provably hipsterish.

As usual, the proverbial straw that helped me admit my love for the song was waking up and realizing I was singing it to myself. The second strike? My wife admitted her love even after I explained what “pumped-up kicks” were (if my wife, who isn’t white and grew up in a far more sketchy area than I did doesn’t know what this means, then we are truly dealing with a retro-hipsterism…). The third strike: when I asked my brother about the song (and mangled the band’s name) he said, yeah, I know it: my country band covers it. A country version? Count me in.

(that the song can be translated from one genre to another proves its quality)

The contrast between the content and the music proves that a songs meaning needn’t be reflected in its sound. In fact, it shows that messages can be effectively delivered through an inversion of the ‘feeling’ of the song and the meaning of the words.

Or something like that.

When it comes down to it, the song has a good bass line, uses  a bag of pop tricks well and ends before you’re tired of it. I can’t ask for much more.

To keep me honest: here’s a parody of the song

The parody is pretty stupid. It proves to me (somehow) that the original song is good.

7 comments on “On the Radio: Pumped Up Kicks

  1. professormortis says:

    Parody’s pretty low when it stoops to Charlie Chan.

    I enjoy this song, but I blame my wife.

  2. theelderj says:

    Professor–here’s how I know the song is a winner: when it comes on the radio, both my wife and I reach to turn up the volume. Is there a simpler or more visceral test?

    • professormortis says:

      In your case, definitely-your musical tastes are different enough that the fact that you both like it means it must be good.

  3. […] to be posting at least twice a week instead of one and more short shots like my brother’s On The Radio […]

  4. […] I scan the radio dial or peruse the album releases in the past year, it is sad to see how apolitical much of our music […]

  5. […] really only downloaded this album because I loved “Pumped-Up Kicks” so much. As is often the case with great singles, this one was not a good barometer for the whole […]

  6. […] brother and I seem to have become obsessed with this song separately. His country band covers it. I drive around in a Prius with a chop-shop catalytic […]

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