Switchfoot - 'Fading West' album review

by - Monday, February 03, 2014

currently: listening to Switchfoot's album.

So my usual habit is to buy physical albums before I go through a review, but Switchfoot's latest offering was too hard to resist. It was up on YouTube, up on Spotify, up on iTunes Radio...and how the heck was I suppose to resist? This new Switchfoot album came in at a time where I needed the therapy of music to cleanse me of a tired day-to-day life, and for that it has restrengthened my soul and gave my heart a reminder of will.


Switchfoot - Fading West (2014 album)

Switchfoot's newest album, Fading West, can be best described as the album for 'the travelling soul'. A soundtrack to those who are unsettled and wandering, and wondering about the purpose of the journey. Inspired by their travels, seeking for songs and surfs across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Bali (which can be seen in their documentary, also titled Fading West), the album overall looks for the answer of where is home and where identities are formed. While this isn't a new theme that singer Jon Foreman hasn't covered before, the treatment to the album is like taking a breath of fresh summer air and plunging to a blue ocean.

While their last album Vice Verses featured dirty guitars and raw, rough-edged vocals, Fading West strangely takes a more pop-upbeat driven record. Gone is the previous angst, replaced with an experiment of sound which takes it into a brighter, more curious, and more layered direction. Having this album on non-stop repeat for the past week, each listen you notice a new element you hadn't picked up before. It's infectious, refreshing, and easy to fall into.
From the opening of Love Alone is Worth The Fight, this Switchfoot record is in a completely different head space than previous records. Instead of a directional guitar launching you into its riff-stricken start, Fading West instead uplifts you into an open space of breath, layers and sound. While it's strange to not have that kick to impact the start, it is actually more effective for this soft launch, and just sets the entire mood of the album. Electronics and piano also play more in this record than previous ones, complimenting the atmospheric backing vocals. And of course, like any movement sung by Jon Foreman, the chorus "love alone is worth the fight" just makes you feel strong and happy.

Who We Are is one of their more unique tracks, more remembered for using Switchfoot's own children as backing vocals. While the track isn't actually a five-beat song like it almost appears to be in the beginning, it does still keep with Jon's clever spoken-word like lyrics. It becomes a fist-pumping anthem of youth that you can already picture crowds cheering back to the stage. But of course instead of being a protest towards doing what 'the man' with the 'company car' tells you to do, it's more a fun reaffirmation that you're young; take a chance, be carefree.

However, a stronger song that says more is the track When We Come Alive. To the choir of voices, your heart swells with emotion. You feel desperation in the chorus, you seek direction through lyrics, you plead to be released from frustration and fears. The song just swells my heart, where I just want to close my eyes and scream along with the chorus. It's one of Jon's best on the album.

The album has many uplifting, upbeat songs, like the anthem Let It Out, the catchy spoken-word like song Saltwater Heart, and the "happy song about death" Slipping Away that it does make the two rockier tracks stand out a bit like sore thumbs. The track Say Like You Mean It with its running gritty guitars is reminiscent of the Vice Verses album, feeling a bit like an outcast of its predecessor. However the track, titled Ba55 has something deep and blues-like about it, experiment with vocal distortion and this underlying groove that feels influenced by Radiohead's In Rainbows album. While it isn't the most exciting song on the album, Ba55 is clearly an unique track.

I would hate to fault a Switchfoot album, but if I did have to bring some sort of constructive criticism to the table, Jon's lyrics are not as progressive as it previous has been, with a sense of repetitive Jon-phrases dusted across Fading West. And while it may received a lot of critique for being more pop-alternative than rock, I do think this album does well to stand out on its own with its own sound, rather than be another Vice Verses reincarnated.

It's not the typical Switchfoot sound, but then sometimes typical gets a bit dull. Escape for a bit and dive with headphones first into Fading West.

"Breathe it in and let it out." Let it Out - Switchfoot.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Stand out tracks: Love Alone is Worth the Fight, When We Come Alive, The World You Want, Slipping Away, Saltwater Heart
For people who like: Onerepublic, Of Monsters and Men, Avalanche City, Imagine Dragon's song 'On Top of The World', positive summer albums that remind you of freedom.

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