Jon Foreman – Departures

Independent

Release Date: February 12th 2021

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

Jon ForemanDepartures (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. The Ocean Beyond the Sea
  2. Education
  3. Side By Side (feat. Madison Cunningham)
  4. A Place Called Earth (feat. Lauren Daigle)
  5. Red & Gold
  6. Jesus, I Have My Doubts
  7. Thanks Be To God
  8. The Gift
  9. Weight of the World
  10. Love is the Rebel Song
  11. The Valley of the Shadow of Planned Obsolescence
  12. Last Words

‘…ever since I was in junior high, music has been a place where I felt safe. In songs, I could discuss politics, God, girls, and sex without fear. And for me, songwriting still felt like a safe place, even in a year that felt like everything else had changed. I felt like so much of the world felt upside down and backwards, and yet my guitar was still tuned. I felt like I can’t fix the world, but I can tune my guitar and write another song…’ Jon Foreman. Lead singer of Switchfoot. And exemplary singer-songwriter within the veins of artists like Andrew Peterson, Jason Gray, Nichole Nordeman, Mike Donehey
(of Tenth Avenue North), even mainstream artists like John Mayer, the Goo Goo Dolls and U2. Jon has been helming the band Switchfoot since the mid-1990s, as we who were fans of 1990s CCM watched this alternative rock band grow from a garage-group to a multi-platinum quintet, with powerful songs like ‘Dare You to Move’, ‘Stars’, ‘Love Alone is Worth the Fight’, ‘Learning to Breathe’, ‘Meant to Live’, ‘Only Hope’, ‘Restless’ and ‘Oh! Gravity’, to name a few. Switchfoot have shown me what it’s like to deliver such songs in a way that both lovers of CCM and mainstream can enjoy them alike, as we see a band whose faith is ever-so-present in these songs, but still equally sensitive to the human condition, and to people who share different perspectives, and thus tailoring the song and album experience to fit these people too. Jon’s music has been a blessing to listen to and a treasure for myself to collate in my iTunes music library, as this Switchfoot lead singer becomes one of the wisest and heartfelt singer-songwriters to ever grace the Christian music space in quite some time. With Jon unveiling songs and albums as a solo artist, concurrently with his band material, Jon Foreman the solo artist has unveiled to us Departures in February 2021, a collection of 12 songs destined to be treasures by years end- Jon portrays all of our feelings of what was on offer in 2020, and placed them in an album experience that we can call enriching and challenging for the self- us understanding what we need to do individually and collectively moving forward into the rest of 2021. Departures is indeed a departure from the usual rock sound that Switchfoot portrays, and yet, I’ve found his solo material, espcieally this album, to be on par with some of his better songs from Switchfoot. Sure, this may not have the rock sound that we all may be expecting from lead singer Jon Foreman, but what we have seen from this release is something all the more remarkable. For fans of Switchfoot, Jon’s solo material, as well as other fellow-singer-songwriters alike; Departures may be a contender, for me, for it to be album of the year- that’s how compelling and captivating this album really is!

Even though Jon has made much more of a name for himself as being the frontman of Switchfoot, for me it has been his solo material that is as much captivating, maybe even more so, than his band stuff. While the band itself has never shied away from any song that has delved into the band’s spiritual foundation, Jon’s own personal work leans much more to his own Christian faith, and much of his new album Departures features Jon wrestling with the year that was, which was 2020. While Jon’s writings and musings throughout most, if not all of Departures combines moments of lament, grief and turmoil, we see Departures as being something unifying, therapeutic, heartfelt and compelling as a lot of these songs challenge the very way we actually viewed a horror of last year, and how we can go into 2021 with such renewed spirits, of hopefulness and longing for a better day than whence we were before. Songs like ‘Side By Side’, ‘Jesus, I Have My Doubts’ and the obscurely titled yet equally profound ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Planned Obsolescence’ are just some of my favourites on an album littered with imagery and metaphors, as Jon himself continues to assert is very own possible place in my very own blog series that I am doing (I haven’t put him in, yet, but contemplating it very much!). Departures is definitely a departure from the rock of Switchfoot, to the folksy acoustic-ness of Jon’s solo material, and that in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jon has always prided himself in creating art that challenges and envelopes a variety of people using jargon that relates to us all than just a select few. And Departures has a sort-of universal appeal, and that is what is admirable about the broad brushstrokes of which Jon has used throughout his career thus far. As Jon has himself said, ‘…I wanted to use the year [of 2020] for what it was, rather than trying to focus something upon it. I saw this as a cathartic album I was able to create by myself in the studio late at night when I could put all of the questions, doubts and concerns into a song and maybe sleep a little better afterwards…for me, music has always been part of this larger conversation where the most important parts of my life are challenged and maybe transformed. I’m hoping this album will continue the conversation which has brought me here…’

‘Education’ is the first song to have been unveiled to us prior to the release of Departures, and with the song itself being a standard-fare pop-rock radio track that a lot of other Switchfoot songs are, Jon’s way of using a repitious hook to draw us all in, is exemplified in the hauntingly compelling and refreshing lyrics of how ‘…you lose yourself when you love someone and you come undone when you love someone…’, in that when we put someone else’s needs before our own, we can attribute that to an overflowing of love for that person. When we think of ourselves less, become humbler, and place the other above our centred selves, we can be reminded of how Christ Himself loved the church, and loved people who just don’t know Him yet. Upbeat and joyous, Jon himself divulges his own thoughts on ‘Education’, and how the song itself was an ode to nostalgia, growing up, and learning things from the school of hard knocks, rather than from an institutionalized version of what an education system could be- ‘…that song took me back to like my educational formative years in high school and college. And I think the biggest education that I am still learning is what it means to love. What it means to truly love someone, not just love them for what they can do for you or what they can bring to your life, but to actually begin to lose parts of yourself, to surrender parts of yourself in the relationship. And whether you’re talking, the politics of a nation, community, all these things have brought us to this point where we really need to begin to find a way to love each other…’

Throughout the rest of the album, we see Jon deliver poignancy and fervent enthusiasm and an ability to delve deep into the human condition, with songs that tug at our soul and remind us of the deep issues we so long to forget. ‘Ocean Beyond the Sea’ begins Departures; and has a hauntingly compelling hymn-like Lord of the Rings-esque quality about it, and I’m immediately harkened back to hymns of my own day, or even the Lord of the Rings song, ‘Into the West’. ‘Ocean Beyond the Sea’ starts off in a subdued manner, but midway through, the song itself builds up and powerfully explodes with an empathic strings section coupled with strong drum undertones. And in and amongst all the technicalities of the first song and all of the ways this song brings with it a cinematic quality to it, Jon himself divulges the message behind the track, and how ‘…I think that the hope of the song is it’s a calling to something beyond where you are, to somewhere beyond where you’ve been. I was thinking of the common harbors that we all pursue—beauty, power, control, safety. And yet there’s a longing underneath that that isn’t ever fulfilled by material means. The song is about that destination that is out of our reach above the sky, beyond the road, past the trees, and yet closer than you think…’ It is an anthemic song, one with a lot of mystery and awe to it, but a great album starter, to say the least.

‘Side By Side’ is the next track after ‘Education’ (which is in turn the 2nd song on the album following ‘Ocean Beyond the Sea’), and speaks of how we are not all that different from each other- the heroes and villians of this world, all long for similar things at the end of the day- love, acceptance, and the camaraderie and connection between us and other people. When we are all buried (or cremated), our lot in where we are in a burial site, can be just as much next to a hero as it can be next to a villain, and herein lies the point of it all. ‘Side By Side’ shows us all the similarities we have together as people, and even if we may point out the things that are different, in actuality, what we can learn from each other is so much more than we can give ourselves credit for. As Jon himself once again divulges, ‘…I was thinking at that moment [before COVID] about the things that we allow to get in between us as humans, the things that we allow to become walls- wars and divorces and grudges. And I think that the song finds its final punch in the last line. The irony that friends and enemies will all be buried side by side…’ There’s a sort of humility that comes when knowing that sometimes what divides us can be so trivial like a second-hand opened handed doctrine of an issue between people. What we believe at the end of the day doesn’t have to an elusive grand list- just that Jesus died and rose after 3 days to take care of the penalty of death for our sins, on that cross all those years ago. Other than that He died, rose and took away the debt we needed to pay, everything else that isn’t a salvation issue, shouldn’t be debated in a way that we ‘hate’ our brother because of it all. ‘Side By Side’ is a unity song in that way, as we realise that what brings us together is the gospel, and that it is much better to be in the process of figuring it out and saying ‘I don’t know’, rather than just assuming we’ve all arrived and now have all the answers in a nice, neat bow!

Departures is full of hard-hitting compelling stuff, and while this album in and of itself is not for someone who just wants to hear some pop album, this album full of introspectiveness, is one where you need to re-listen to the songs, again and again, for you to understand, and be impacted by the words that have been said by Jon in these inspirational tracks. ‘A Place Called Earth’ is a duet with CCM/mainstream pop icon Lauren Daigle, as Jon divulges his own thoughts on what he longs for heaven to be- ‘…oh I long for heaven in a place called earth, where every son and daughter will know their worth, where all of the streets resound with thunderous joy, oh how I long for heaven in a place called earth…’ While we know that it is physically impossible for heaven to totally come to earth, because of sin, we as people of God, showing other people a glimpse of what heaven could be like in the way we live our lives and care for the least of these, is something we all need to stirve to, and maybe that is the closest thing to heaven that we’ll get, before we get there. ‘Red and Gold’, is a metaphorical, trancendant longing that Jon has when he sees the light of sunset bounce off traffic lights and headlights of cars in traffic, as the light that emits (red and gold), show us something more than just an evening commute. For people in these cars seemingly go about their mundane days, but the song in an existential sense, can bring to us a sense of hope, that ‘…the evening commute [may be a metaphor] for a longing that is maybe timeless, a spiritual, soul longing, and not just a temporal hope to be in a new location…’, while ‘Thanks Be To God’ is a worshipful ballad that can, by all definitions, be submitted as a song in consideration as being one that can be sung on Sunday mornings as part of the song list for Sunday morning worship…imagine that, a Jon Foreman song being a worship song for congregations around the world, and for either corporate or individual worship?

‘The Gift’ places with it, at front and centre, the notion of noticing life for all its nuances that they are, as a gift, and how we live life to the full, is a manifestation of whether or not we believe this life we’re living now is a gift and is in abundance…or not. ‘The Gift’ challenges us to live each day well before it’s gone, and that recognizing that the gift of life is what we have for the now (and not used to worry about the future, or to lament about the past), is something of an art to accomplish. ‘Weight of the World’ is a song and a prayer from a desperate soul to a God, where the persona described in the song, is wondering whether God is intervening in their life, and pondering ‘…where are you now, how does it fit in your plans, sometimes I don’t understand…’, whilst ‘Love is the Rebel Song’ is a song for the misfits, the outcasts, the quirky, the different, the people who have been outcasted, the ones who the Lord lifts up, and uses to shame the people who seemingly have it all ‘all-together’. ‘Last Words’, the album ender, is a heartfelt melody about the persona’s wrestling with the death of a loved one, and the aftermath that comes when they’re trying to live by the last words that this person has spoken to them, yet it’s the songs ‘Jesus I Have My Doubts’ and ‘The Valley Of the Shadow of Planned Obsolescence’ that really hit hard and hit home for me, in a way that makes these two songs usurp any others from Departures, and maybe even rivals ‘Your Love is Strong’ as some of my favourite Jon Foreman songs ever! Below are excerpts from an Apple Interview Jon undertook, where he spoke about these two songs, amongst many from his album Departures, as we’re reminded that such a song as these two, can delve in deep, and really challenge ourselves and change what we view doubt and transformation as being.

STORY BEHIND ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Planned Obsolescence’ – ‘…the first verse is a bit intentionally vague, where you don’t know exactly what we’re talking about, but for me it’s this idea that I’m speaking into this cell phone that I carry everywhere with me. We give these devices so much of our lives. I think what inspired the song was seeing an old cell phone of mine. The screen was cracked and I think maybe it had fallen into water or something. I can’t remember how it died, but it had died. So I wanted to use that metaphor and that reality of death and how it casts a shadow on your human experience. The idea that everyone we love will die. The beautiful physical reality to the human experience is that when I am taken away from this screen, I’m reminded of the hands that I want to hold and the lips I want to kiss and the people that need me and the people that I need…’

STORY BEHIND ‘Jesus, I Have My Doubts’ – ‘…ever since I was a little kid, music has been that safe space for me. I think, especially in high school, I discovered that I could write a song and be honest in ways that I couldn’t in conversation, that I could be honest saying something that is hard to say. And I feel like this song takes full advantage of that. I will often go down to the beach. There is this one rock that I sit on and look out into the darkness at night and there’s no one around, and it’s just me and the Pacific Ocean. I go down there and meditate or pray or think, or talk to myself, yell at God, whatever it is. And this feels like a song that was born from that journey. And I feel that doubt is crucial. Doubt is important… Part of believing is to doubt, to ask, to seek, and ultimately to find, but I don’t believe in a God who’s afraid of me, a God that I can’t take a swing at. And this is a song that takes a swing at God and asks some big questions at the end of a wildly long and difficult season…’

Both these two songs remind me of how a song can pierce the soul and challenge our very essence of how and why we live the lives that we do. For such songs on Departures, speak to our very soul, and are very much needed in this time of COVID-19. Introspective and reflective, emotive, and heartfelt, these twelve songs are songs that act as remedies to our own circumstances, giving situations a voice when we could not even speak what we wanted to say. For singing a song is like sharing your innermost thoughts out loud, and songs like ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Planned Obsolescence’ and ‘Jesus, I Have My Doubts’, are songs that are certain to be on repeat, at least for myself, in months and maybe even years to come. For Jon’s presence not just in Switchfoot, but as a solo artist overall, is something to be in admiration about, as we see that the music on Departures is not just your run-of-the-mill pop album, but something a whole lot more. Well done Jon for this collection of songs. Looking forward to whatever comes in the future, either in the form of the band Switchfoot, or in the solo-artist format.

4 songs to listen to: Side By Side, The Valley of the Shadow of Planned Obsolescence, Jesus, I Have Me Doubts, A Place Called Earth

Score: 5/5

RIYL: Switchfoot, Jillian Edwards, Steven Curtis Chapman, Andrew Peterson, Jason Gray, John Mayer

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