There comes a time in a group's evolution where they logically have to stop the forward momentum and explore the musical territory around them. Switchfoot is testing new musical waters.
lowercase people / Atlantic Records
11 tracks / 43:31 minutes
At first listen, you ask yourself if this even sounds like a Switchfoot album. Sonically, it's a step backward – no, make that sideways. There comes a time in a group's evolution where they logically have to stop the forward momentum and explore the musical territory around them. It's like driving from here (Long Island) to Pennsylvania – might as well stop and enjoy New Jersey for a while, right? Well, let me rephrase that...
Jersey jokes aside, Switchfoot stretches their legs a bit on Fading West, a project that, after all, is partially the result of the physical journeying they do in the musical documentary/travel diary of the same name. Jon Foreman, whose unmistakable vocals are the most Switchfooty thing about the album, says that the songs 'come from uncomfortable places,' but seems to fit very nicely into the pop star mode of many of these tracks, which often feature more 'woah-ay-oh' sing-along moments and less of a band presence.
This is not to say that Switchfoot has turned in their angst for beach balls and fizzy drinks with little umbrellas – there's still an undercurrent of social and spiritual tension that strings the songs together. "You start to look like what you believe / We float through time like a stream," sings Foreman, in "The World You Want," continuing, in classic Switchfoot fashion, "What you say is your religion / How you say it's your religion / Who you love is your religion / How you love is your religion / All your science your religion / All your hatred your religion / All your wars are your religion / Every breath is your religion." Clearly, the group hasn't shied away from their trademark introspection and/or challenging of the status-quo.
Yes, there are anthems and yes, there are more singing children than you might want to hear (if, like me, your tolerance for that ends after one time). But this version of Switchfoot – whether you want to call it new or retro – manages to sound pretty radio-friendly while staying musically interesting. There are more electronics – including drum-loops - and more distortion (listen to "BA55") than you might be expecting from Foreman and Company, but there are plenty of hooks as well. The solid songwriting is still underneath it all – even on the very electronic "Say it Like You Mean It," which manages to show some Beatles influence near the end of the track.
Switchfoot became good friends of studio production on Fading West and it should be interesting to hear the live performances of this material. Occasionally an ode to surfing, but more often about who we are, what the world is, and who we yearn to be, Fading West in many ways sums up what Switchfoot is all about.
Meanwhile, "Let it Out" gets my vote for Song Most Likely to be Heard Over the End Credits of the Next Big Teen Flick. Fade to black, and enjoy...