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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Fiction Family
Label: ATO Records
Time: 12 tracks / 39:46
There was a time when a good pop album consisted of a bunch of tight three-minute songs (that were mostly about the ins and outs of romantic relationships), and was about 40 minutes long. Fiction Family is just that kind of back-to-the-basics pop album, but just happens to have been created by members of two current major label bands: Jon Foreman and Sean Watkins, of Switchfoot and Nickel Creek. The duo have revisited their high school friendship by writing and recording a bunch of songs together strictly for fun and without regard for commercial issues. The resulting album, a project that never had a schedule or a marketing plan, is a refreshingly relaxed combination of 60s-sounding pop/folk/country/rock music and modern singer/songwriter sensibilities.
Right from the first track, “When She’s Near,” it’s obvious that Fiction Family is a project steeped in conscious and unconscious homage to music from the heyday of The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Dylan. The production is modest and the sound is warm and familiar. The acoustic guitar, bass, piano and percussion mix (which is basic to the album’s overall sound) is reminiscent of Beatles-era pop at its best. Foreman and Watkins play all of the aforementioned instruments and several others, with very occasional help in the form of horns in one case, and violin from Nickel Creek’s Sarah Watkins. Foreman and Watkins switch off from song to song on lead vocals (with Foreman more often in the solo spot) and occasionally join together, sounding remarkably like a Simon and Garfunkel reunion, but without the tension.
The lyrics on Fiction Family are mostly about life and relationships, only briefly visiting spiritual issues on the biting indictment of Christian indifference, “Closer Than You Think,” which has the Heaven-obsessed subject singing, ‘…there’s nothing on this Earth / that’s as good as way up there / life is so much better / when you’re floating on the air…’ For the most part, though, lyrics are either introspective, similar to some of Jon Foreman’s recent solo work, or about relationships good and bad.
The songs are short and full of hooks. Forman’s vocals are confident but friendly and vulnerable, a perfect blend with, and compliment to, Watkins’ cleaner country/pop sound. These are neat little pop songs that venture a few times into more daring territory by featuring a few instrumental codas that become fairly experimental and reminiscent of Beatle-like pop psychedelia.
The music here is certainly closer in tone to the recent series of solo EPs put out by Jon Foreman than it is to either Switchfoot or Nickel Creek. The freedom for the two artists to simply make the music they wanted to make – purely for the art and the fun of it – has brought them back to their pop roots and to the joy of creating music without the constraints of the commercial world breathing down their necks. The joy comes through.