Native Tongue

Switchfoot is a career artist. This means they are good. Musicians can keep making music, but only an artist can keep making art. A true artist is judged by his or her work – the entire output. This band has found its sound. You could even say they’ve settled in. This might sound like a recipe for a disaster called complacency and blandness, but for Switchfoot fans this is a good thing. Judging by the stretching they’ve done with the blues and even hip-hop on (Where the Light Shines Through), this rock band has successfully blended the tension of bettering their past work and/or keeping it fresh.

The title track here brings that freshness in terms of sound — infectious, bouncing, snapping and pulsing percussion. This is a band that’s still exploring, but never deviating too far from its trademark sound. Not far from Imagine Dragons, but still close enough to “Dare you to Move,” “Oh! Gravity!” or “Vice Verses.” It feels like the band is having fun, swinging progressively along on bombastic booms and stopping on a dime to give way to plunking piano keys and snapping fingers. George Martin would be proud.

“All I Need” poetically talks straight up to us, while “Voices” bounces along with a popular palette of snappy drums, dancing keyboards, swinging “whoa-oh’s” and other sound effects woven in. Ironically enough, it fits right in with modern radio while it sings, “I used to listen to the radio.”

“Dig New Streams” explores more musical tapestries, flirting with Sgt. Pepper era Beatlesque sounds and a dirty New Orleans blues stomp. It’s quite delightful even while it stretches outside the 4/4 pop formula.

“Joy Invincible” pulls from the fear and sorrow of seeing someone vulnerably dealing with health issues, carried by a quiet keyboard melody and guitar chime sound akin to Explosions in the Sky that builds up to a chorus of choosing joy and seeing its invincible muscles flex. Those wanting to follow along as Switchfoot leads in worship can do so with this song of scriptural depth. It’s nice to hear a powerful and epic word like “nevertheless” get used with skill.

The album is a mighty victory lap and it’s only six songs in and not even halfway over.

“Prodigal Soul” laments wanting to come home, admitting “I can’t make it alone. Won’t you bring me home? I tried to blame myself on you.” Introspection pays off for the creative. And we are blessed for it.

“The Hardest Art” lyrically explores love, which is the hardest art. The music here is a lush, almost dreamy soundscape and features some femalesque vocals that soften the overall feel.

“Wonderful Feeling” starts off with just piano and Jon Foreman’s voice. The band kicks in after awhile, adding a plodding rhythm and nice BGVs. It’s a nice McCartneyesque moment that slows things down to a simple musical prayer. “The Strength to Let Go” is prayer-like psalm. With its cries of, “Show me the way to come home,” it fits right along “Prodigal Soul” lyrically.

“Take My Fire” brings some fuzzy guitar and slamming power chords. Call it a song to haters or the ultimate hater – Satan. “You’re never gonna take my fire.”

“We’re Gonna Be Alright” is another comfort song, brought along by nimble strumming and even capable of being led by a ukelele (don’t be surprised if they ever whip one out in concert). It’s a nice affirmation that it’s okay to hurt — okay to not be okay. Movie producers might want to tap this one for that feel good turnaround cinematic moment.

“You’re the One I Want” ends the album with a minor key and a simple statement of commitment. From the opening chords of “Let it Happen” to the pop groove of “Oxygen” to this final tune, Switchfoot delivers a rarity in today’s world — a cohesive listen worthy of vinyl, hurredly flipping over to side B and then repeating. Another quality notch in their musical belt. [Fantasy] Doug Van Pelt