Word Label Group
Release Date: July 17th 2015
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Ghost Machine
- My Coffin
- Fake Your Own Death
- Good For Me
- Your Love Is Enough
- Siren’s Song
“…I think about death a lot. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to think about death. It’s going to happen whether we think about it or not. I think thoughts of death can inform the way we live. At least for me, I find that to be true…” One of the most popular and respected bands ever in both Christian and mainstream media, in my opinion, are San Diego rockers Switchfoot, comprising of Jon Foreman, Tim Foreman, Drew Shirley, Jerome Fontamillas and Chad Butler. These guys have been creating unique and breathtaking melodies for a while now, having been active since 1996. With their most recent achievement being the surfing documentary Fading West and the companion soundtrack album of the same name (both released in January 2014), alongside Edge Of The Earth (a b-sides EP released in September last year to commercial and critical acclaim, with such sublime quality in the same league as the inventive and daring full length album); it’s no secret that apart from the rock band thing, lead singer Jon Foreman has been plying his trade as a solo artist. Yes, yes, this is a Jon Foreman EP review (not a Switchfoot review, sorry, you can view my review of Edge Of The Earth EP here if you’re not a fan of Jon’s singer/songwriter solo material!), and I guess the reason why I included a bit of context in this review (and likewise with the review of Sunlight EP), was to put things in perspective for all of you.
See, Jon previously released 4 EP’s around 2007 and 2008 (which was why there weren’t any Switchfoot releases around that time- Oh Gravity released in 2006 and Hello Hurricane in 2009!), titled Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer, and now this past week, Jon has once again released new material. Previously releasing Sunlight EP at the end of May this year to commercial and critical acclaim (you can read my review here!), as well as a music video for “Caroline”!); Jon Foreman’s new solo EP Shadows, the 2nd in the Wonderland series, a 24 song project, one for each hour of the day, just released this past week via Word Label Group. With Jon’s more mellow and introspective offerings musically poles apart from his energetic rock roots in Switchfoot; fans do not need to be worried, as Switchfoot is still here to stay. So now that we have that out of the way; let’s see how does this EP stacks up against Jon’s previous solo albums and the entire Switchfoot discography. For one thing, it’s a little darker and more serious than the Sunlight EP, but I guess the tone has to do with the titles of the EP, as well as the time of the day Jon originally set these songs for. With such lyrically sound melodies and though provoking topics explored, Shadows EP is one of my favourite EPs of the year!
Opening the mini-album with the confronting and deeply layered acoustic guitar led haunting ballad “Ghost Machine”, Jon wastes no time in delving into the deep issues, as he fervently sings about a ‘siren’ and how ‘…I’m possessed when she passes by…I swear she’s going to make a dead man out of me…’. As a metaphor for sin entering our lives and for us doing what we want because it feels good, the brilliant imagery and vivid lyrics describing Jon or the persona’s journey with the siren who will turn him into a ghost machine, a shadow of who he once was, makes us sit up and take notice of the way we live our lives. Are we are going through the motions in life, living life reacting to the pleasures of this world, or are we actively putting the important things in our life at the forefront of our daily schedules and intentions, ultimately finding more satisfaction and intrinsic value than those who are swayed by the sirens? While Jon offers up no explicit and clear cut remedy to his dilemma, presenting it through song is a great way to get the message out of what so many people in this world could be feeling. An intriguing opener, the rest of the EP is just as challenging.
“My Coffin” is such a morbid song title, however the music in itself is quite jovial (go figure!), with strings and vibrant percussion a great use of juxtaposition as Jon asks questions about what happens to us when we die. As Jon probes and probes, asking the question about where we go after the coffin comes over us, we are ultimately forced to confront the harsh reality that we all die at the end of the day. Once we accept this inevitable fact, and also understand that we all must die before God resurrects us to new life, then our coffins that we are placed in do not seem very scary, as we know that our bodies in the coffins are only vessels and we will be living with Jesus. Well done Jon for a unique interpretation about death and new life, and one that brings new perspective as I live more actively for God. While the minimal instrumental synth led ballad “Fake Your Own Death” doesn’t inspire confidence, when analysing the title, however is as deep a song as Jon has recorded, with the subject matter being about people running away from their own mortality, pretending that they will live forever, while Jon encourages us to face our own mortality, so that we can truly live with no regrets and with no preconceived ideas about what this life and the next hold for us.
And though the album speaks about death and our subsequent resurrection in Christ as a whole, though viewed in the lens of Job or Solomon when he was writing Ecclesiastes, there are a few songs that Jon includes here that are more about life than death. “Good For Me”, complete with brass instruments, is a jazz blues themed melody that delves into the things we do in everyday life, as Jon questions what are the good things we are doing and what are not. Again there is imagery here (c’mon, it’s Jon Foreman, how could there not be metaphors and complex lyrics!), and once again I am floored by Jon’s musical and lyrical prowess, particularly in the bridge where he unequivocally states that ‘…I got snakes for hands, Got a lamb for slaughter, we’ve been drinking sand, that we thought was the water…are you the cure or the disease…’.
The acoustic guitar led and subdued, reflective album closer is “Siren’s Song”, a warning for us to avoid any siren, so as to not plunge to our spiritual and/or physical deaths, as Jon reiterates time and time again that tying ourselves to an unbeliever in this world is not a good idea, as we do not want to be unequally yoked. Though we think we may want to change our significant other, more often than not we are the ones who will be changed over time, and that is what Jon warns us about. Yet on the other hand, the penultimate song on the album is much sunnier and brighter, and sums up God’s goodness, as well as the message of this EP that death is not the end.
The EP’s lead single “Your Love Is Enough” is one of my favourite Jon Foreman songs ever, with the melody being in the same league lyrically as “Your Love Is Strong” and “All Of God’s Children”. With Jon’s vocals at their soaring and exquisite best, Jon overtly praises God here, allowing us to bask in God’s love and affection, while Jon reiterates that God’s love is always enough for us. As he asks the questions of ‘…who can find me in this darkness, who alone can help me stand, who could find a way to find me and even love me as I am?…’, we are given hope and an answer later on in the song, as we are brilliantly reminded that ‘…You’re the harbour in this flooding storm…here in my Maker’s arms I’m coming home…’. Well done Jon for creating a vibrant and eclectic song about the eternal message of hope and love, that beyond the shadows, there is sunshine! (Wow, who knew that “The Shadow Proves The Sunshine” would be indirectly used now- God works in mysterious ways!)
“…I’m fascinated by light and darkness. As a lot of these songs were coming out, I realized they were kind of polarized in their approach to the world in the darkness or the light. I thought, what if I chronicled the journey of the sun and wrote a song for every stage of light and darkness, and that’s kind of where these songs found their home…” If you thought that Sunlight was epic then Shadows is even more so. If you loved Sunlight then guaranteed you’ll love Shadows. SwitchEach and every of the 6 songs are sure to inspire, confront, comfort and probe, as we investigate and seek out answers to our questions, as we find more of God in our lives. Personally I see the 6 song EP, the second of a 4 EP series The Wonderlands; as a reminder to live life to the fullest, to remember that death isn’t the end. With Switchfoot still making wonderful music, Jon’s solo work has also benefited from a stellar band career thus far, and I hope and pray that all 24 songs on The Wonderlands are appreciated and loved by all who listen. Well done Jon I can’t wait for Darkness and Dawn later on in the year!
3 songs to listen to: My Coffin, Good For Me, Your Love Is Enough
RIYL: Needtobreathe, Lifehouse, Daughtry, Third Day, House Of Heroes