In Jon Foreman's TED talk at the University of Nevada, called "Live Your Song," he walks through the progression of life as a tune unique to every human, including what to do when the notes are sour. "When you hit the wrong notes, the song continues. I dare you to forgive yourself; ask for forgiveness when you hit the wrong note, and forgive the people that wrong note against you. Don't let past mistakes rob the present of its potential for beauty and joy." It's this principle that is paramount to Where the Light Shines Through, another proven album in Switchfoot's legendary run.
To understand Where the Light Shines Through in the context of the band's history, revisiting 2014's Fading West might be helpful. Fading West is a tough album to judge in the Switchfoot discography because it wasn't ever meant to stand alone. Being framed behind a documentary bought some favor - it's not quite a studio album, but it's also not a full soundtrack either. But as more time has passed since Fading West's release, its distinguished quality has become more clear. It transitioned Switchfoot's creative direction from aggressive, grunge-tinged grandeur to pensive, traditional pop/rock, and that's especially apparent with Where the Light Shines Through. It feels like a natural successor to the surfing sensibilities of Fading West; it is calmer in its demeanor, inviting the listener to join the Foremans and their crew at a beachfront campfire to consider life's purpose carefully and intentionally. The stories told here don't happen on the water, and therefore, it's not splashy. When the title track examines the meaning of pain and suffering, it's not a song of thoughtless, "tough-it-out" resolve, but instead a choice encouragement and hope over regret and victimhood.
Because this effort isn't seaworthy, however, not every song leaps off the tracklisting. Song structures like in the title track and "Live It Well" (a single which feels a bit redundant after Vice Verses' "Thrive") do seem simplistic for a band's tenth album, and even "I Won't Let You Go," one of the album's most memorable tracks, feels somewhat standard as a ballad with its strings incorporated throughout. The slow burners "If the House Burns Down Tonight" (a tribute to Jon Foreman's wife) and the triumphant "The Day That I Found God" aren't musically memorable at first, either, but Foreman's songwriting wins the day in these instances; the latter track expertly articulates the tension between human weariness and divine trust ("Where is God out in the darkness?/'Cause the voices in my head ain't talking honest/They're saying maybe you made us then forgot us/But that ain't you"). Of course, with a band as perennially heralded as Switchfoot, even the less impressive tracks are better than most others', and subsequent listens to the entirety of Where the Light Shines Through prove this album's durability.
"Holy Water" is an imposing opener and is the most intense on the album, featuring the dirtiest (for the lack of a better adjective) guitar work here. Immediately following is "Float," which is reminiscent of "The Original" from Vice Verses; it's a quirky track with fun percussion that makes the album's beginning feel fresh and inviting. Similarly, "Bull In a China Shop" centers around Chad Butler's drumming that makes the track lively, but not without some potential for long-term earworms. Another highlight is "Looking for America," which asks questions about the United States' status as a strong, but deeply flawed, project ("America who are you?/Do you get what you deserve/Between the violence and entitlements/Which nation do you serve?"), and chooses something greater than a country built by humanity ("I'm singing farewell my utopia/Farewell my euphoria/'Fare-thee-well' my suburban day-dream"). Lecrae's featured rap on "Looking for America" is a landmark, timely addition here, winsomely questioning a happy-go-lucky view of the USA. The closing track, "Hope is the Anthem," takes a similar approach to both "Where I Belong" and "Red Eyes," though perhaps not in as grand of a scale. In pure Foreman fashion, the theme of a heart's song appears here with a fury ("My heart is beating like a blown speaker/The spirit is willing but the flesh is weaker/A distortion pedal and a pair of wings/And an anthem played on broken strings"). An ever-so-faint echo of "like holy water" in the waning last seconds of the song, and just like "Holy Water" declares at its start that "hope deserves an anthem," everything comes full circle.
These things are hard to predict, of course, but in a few years, Where the Light Shines Through might not be seen as the most seamless of Switchfoot's work. The trademark, "Switchfoot-sound" grunge is missed, and some songs could be more impactful with some extra power behind them. Nonetheless, it indicates a quiet brilliance that's been key to the band's enduring success. Almost twenty years after The Legend of Chin, Switchfoot has only grown to be a band of sage wisdom and instrumental excellence, and in an age where artists come and go with varying degrees of fortitude, Where the Light Shines Through is a remarkable effort in its own right.- Preview Review date: 6/18/16; Review date: 7/7/16, written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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