Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Jon Foreman
Label: Credential Rec.
Jon Foreman is the young and brilliant mind behind the recent Switchfoot phenomenon. For anyone giving their breakthrough album The Beautiful Letdown any kind of a serious listen, they would have picked up that principal songwriter Foreman has a deep poetic, philosophical and theological soul. The full frontal emo rock ring of Switchfoot was always going to threaten to curtail what Foreman might be surmising as he tours the world and wrestles with faith and fame and art. This series of EPs is his way allowing his fertile artistic imagination to find its outlet. Fall was released last--ah--Fall--in the US and Winter is now out, too. While we are all literally looking forward to Spring, the UK release sees the first two seasons released together and yes there are another twelve songs to come broken into Spring and Summer.
My recent reviews of Switchfoot have, in the midst of my delight, at their arrival on the scene, questioned the content. I feel that Foreman might have been chained by the formula to sell product. These EPs release his head and muse in a most satisfying direction. The production is stripped back, and cellos, clarinets and trumpets get room to really breathe in the less accessible, if not less melodic sound. And Jon's voice benefits, as well, from less clang with its yearning and tender and weary and worn natural beauty. The songs have the opportunity to be more personal. His wife thanked as emo on the credits gets more attention; the image of her lying sleeping against him on "Southbound Train" is gorgeous. A reformed theology sees its way into art as Foreman does two things well--firstly, he reminds humanity of the depth of our damaged intentions. The two what might be called spirituals on these EPs, "Lord Save Me From Myself" and his reading of Psalm 51 on "White As Snow," are Foreman's own prayers of confession and need of transcendent redemption. Secondly, on the other side of the coin, "Somebody's Baby" is a marvellous reminder that even the drunken, drugged-up-down-and-out is a human being created in God's image and somebody's child.
At a time when Pop Idol's main crime is to dull down the depth and cutting edge of music these EPs are as solid and deep works of musical art as is around from Foreman's generation. Can't wait for the Spring!
Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain
at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with
88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of
U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal
in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has a weekly
radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul).
He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org
. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin
The sticker on the front of this CD announces, “The singer of multi-platinum Switchfoot”. Surely the only people who know Switchfoot, but not Jon Foreman, are currently living on Neptune? And those who know him are likely to be highly excited about this release, because he is often quoted by other singer-songwriters as being one of their most admired lyricists. They will not be disappointed.
Fall/ Winter is an original, unhurried and unpredictable 2-EP release that is half of a 4-CD set (Spring/Summer being due out in a few months) with songs that reflect the seasons.
I first heard Fall when I was in a bad mood and both the first two songs picked up on my feelings. After playing it twice, I had calmed down considerably. There is something disarming about this intimate, homespun (but not lo-fi) approach, where the shutters are open and Foreman’s heart is in full view. It is mainly just him on guitar and vocals, but there is some help from executive producer Charlie Peacock (wherever he goes, quality is usually near at hand) and fellow Switchfooter Jerome Fontamillas on piano and keyboards, plus occasional strings or trumpet. The percussion, when it comes in, seems largely thigh slaps or similarly non-Ludwig kit. Away from the energy and bluster of the band, all ears can focus on the songs and lyrics.
His lyrics have rarely been better. The nuance, mood, ambivalence and emotion of each song is what you would expect from a full project and undermine any notion that this is just a gap-filling release. Quoting bits here will not do justice to his touch, which is light, but pin-point accurate. “Southbound Train” has the feel of being written on rails, and includes lines like “Maybe I’m just feeling old, like a lawyer with no one to blame” that make you both feel and think. It’s the marriage of theme, words and mood that makes other writers envious.
Sometimes he displays his expertise by taking an old idea and building in another level, as he does on “My Love Goes Free,” when he sympathetically adds the sound of birdsong to the picture of a caged bird. “I recognise the tone / ‘If you love her, let her go’ / She’s beautifully composed / A tune that only caged birds know”.
Winter’s 22 minutes certainly don't outstay their welcome. “Somebody's Baby” is a dramatic account of a tragic life, and another vivid example of Foreman’s economic, but powerful, writing style.
The only track that jars at all with me is “White as Snow” a version of Psalm 51 that misses the Foreman touch, mainly due to a hook line that seems melodically forced. Even here he has a passionate spell towards the end that ignites the piece, and the instrumentation is rhythmically inventive.
Final track “My Love” has a twangy oriental bed of what sounds like treated guitar, mixed unusually with some sparse clarinet. The long intro, which makes you wonder whether it will be an instrumental, leads to a mantra-like cross-centred song.
Foreman specialises in melancholy, and gears his voice well towards it, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with the next two seasons - presumably twelve songs only about new starts and the good times? Somehow I expect it will be more complicated than that. In the meantime, this is one to relish until the days grow longer. It’s a massively welcome outlet for a particularly talented writer.
Admittedly, I'm not a very big Switchfoot fan. I did buy A Beautiful Letdown, but then again, didn't everybody? I was impressed with that album's clarity, musicianship, and depth. In general I have found the rest of their catalogue to be merely passable pop records - a few good songs and a whole lot of filler. Everyone has been hyping the Fall & Winter EPs, even those who don't like Switchfoot, so I thought I'd give these new ones a listen.
With obvious comparisons to Thrice notwithstanding, the concept of releasing a double-album as four EPs with music and lyrics inspired by the four seasons is a rather unique idea. That being said, spreading two CDs worth of music over four is rather annoying. Foreman could have released it as a standard double with the same effect.
The Spring disc opens up with an off-kilter waltz that evokes the juxtapositions of spring quite well - warm and cold, muddy yet green, dry and wet. The slow build of "Love Isn't Made" reminds me of the leaves slowly coming back after winter. Other than these moments the music doesn't really bring to mind spring, it is the straightforward pop we expect from Jon. It really isn't very different from Switchfoot; it's still three-minute tunes with hooks and big choruses. This works better for him though. Foreman's voice is much better suited for folk than rock.
When I think of Summer I expect frolicking, happy-go-lucky pop songs. That is why the Summer EP is a surprise. It is oddly slow and melancholy for a record that is supposed to evoke summer; it doesn't, but it still has some good tunes. With "Instead of a Show" Foreman turns in one of his most biting lyrics, criticizing showy worship, and instead calling for a "flood of justice." This is the type of song I expect from an artist like Steve Taylor or Derek Webb, but rarely does an artist so ingrained in the CCM mainstream release a track like this. Unfortunately he chooses to follow it up with a fairy standard worship song, relying heavily on Psalm 23 for its lyrics.
These EPs have piqued my interest to hear the other two, or maybe I'll wait until the fall release of Limbs & Branches, a compilation of the best songs from the four EPs plus two new songs. I have a feeling that both the concept and the individual songs will be better represented in this more standard format.