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
Length: 12 tracks / 45 minutes
When Foreman released the first half of this 4-EP project in March he revealed some of the best work that he had ever done, so setting the bar high for this concluding part. He responds well to the challenge: there is some superb material here, and the atmosphere of the discs means that single plays are simply not enough. They cry out for repeat hearings.
Foreman found this latest pairing more difficult, because he readily confesses to being a Fall sort of person. Furthermore, he had some of the original batch in his locker for a while before recording, whereas Spring and Summer are more recently written, so have had less time to be honed.
“March: Prelude to Spring” opens the set in surprising fashion; it’s an 81-second Sufjan-meets-oompah-band piece, although with some lovely harmonies by co-writer Molly Jensen. Then come some unintentional smiles as Foreman celebrates Spring’s optimistic ‘all the warmth is in front of us’ vibe with the lyrics:
An hour ago I felt so low I almost drownedThis is such a typical Foreman melody that it’s hard to believe he hasn’t already recorded it. But even if he had, the treatment here typifies the freedom that this Four Seasons approach gives him: there are strings throughout, some sparkling top-end percussion and he tops it off with an upbeat hook as he repeats, “Don’t let the panic bring you down” to end the song. He continues the unpredictable in “Baptise My Mind” as he breaks for some free-jazz flute over his acoustic guitar in the middle, has a couple more Sufjan moments, and uses a five-beat time signature throughout. It is telling that each of the six tracks on this disc takes a different number of minutes from one to five (apart from two at four minutes). Here, he is relishing the lack of constraints, and letting each song naturally do what it has to.
“Baptise My Mind” also brings in one of his major themes, that of death and resurrection of lifestyle: “For a seed to bring life, first it must die.” As “Both my hands are filled with guilt / Both my eyes are blind with filth” he recognize the need to do something drastic. This is a theme he picks up again on the Summer disc in “Resurrect Me,” where he sings:
t takes a long time to kill a man: Fifty-five years at least
This is one track that could easily make the transition to the Switchfoot format, either on record or live.
This pair of EPs probably contains the most sustained scriptural and overtly Christian material that he has yet produced, and maybe he feels that he is speaking more into a Christian audience. This is certainly a riposte to those who believe that his Switchfoot lyrics never get around to answering the questions that they raise. “Your Love is Strong” begins clunkily, as many efforts to fit the Lord’s Prayer into song seem to do, as if he’s still coming to terms with this more upbeat and upfront tone, but he builds it and it works in the end. “Revenge,” though, which picks up his long-time image of being a thief by stealing away the opportunities that his few years give him, employs all of his lyrical skills as he observes the irony of faith’s subversive approach:
Here’s a story where a thief had been robbedSummer might seem to be a strange setting for it, but “Instead of a Show” comes straight from the prophet Amos’s message that God hates all the songs and festivities of religion when there is injustice undermining it, preferring a flood of justice to pour out. Here he takes an incisive Dylanesque approach:
Your eyes are closed when you are praying
Despite the harsh words, he somehow makes it fit the summery sound with some lo-fi brass and slappy percussion.
“The House of the Lord Forever” is a setting of Psalm 23, with vocal duties shared with Sarah Masen; and “Again” is a psalm-like prayer that makes a fitting end.
This series could prove to be as major a progress point in Foreman’s career as _The Beautiful Letdown_ was for his band. The settings not only suit his vocal style, but enhance the songs. They have room to breathe. So while the pace is laid back and largely acoustic, the quality of the writing and fascination of how he employs different tones makes this more compulsive than Switchfoot. That newly independent band will now have a bar raised even higher than Foreman had when he started work on Spring and Summer.
Derek Walker 7/15/2008
(averaged over the 4 EPs)
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.