Saturday, February 25, 2017

Switchfoot Is Celebrating 20 Years Since Their First Album: Here's their Albums Ranked and some Fan Facts

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Fan Fact: The name "Switchfoot" is a surfing term that implies a change in footing, putting your left foot forward, which is more difficult. Jon Foreman said, "To switch your feet means to take a new stance facing the opposite direction. It's about change and movement, a different way of approaching life and music."

I discovered Switchfoot when I was in the 6th grade. I was helping my youth pastor paint our youth room, and we played "New Way to Be Human" over the sound system. That day, nearly fifteen years ago, was the start of what would be become a major staple in my life, I became a Switchfoot fan. In the years following, I began to collect their CD's and memorize their lyrics. I started attending their shows when I was 11, and fifteen or sixteen concerts later I'm still enthralled every time I see them. As I grew and matured, so did their music. Like a person, Switchfoot's lyrics and sound have evolved and changed more and more with each new album, but they never lose the essence of who they are. 

As I began to dream and develop vision for my life, I would blast "Meant to Live" and "This is Your Life" in my portable CD player. As I began to wrestle with depression and shame in late middle school to early high school, I was reminded that my experience was not a lonely one through songs like "The Shadow Proves the Sunshine" and "The Blues." When my faith was sturdy and easy to celebrate, "Your Love is a Song" and "Economy of Mercy" were my jams. When my mom died, it feels as though I never stopped listening to the entire album Vice Verses. Even in the last year, as it felt I was on the verge losing so much of what mattered most to me, songs like "Hope is the Anthem" and "Won't Let You Go" seemed to hold me steady.

So, yeah, I love this band a lot.

 This year is the 20th anniversary of their debut album, The Legend of Chin. In honor of this anniversary, here is my ranking of their first ten albums. There is an important thing to note though, after their first three albums, the rest of the listing here is really arbitrary. It felt impossible making this list, so take the rankings with a grain of salt. Because 99% of their music is unimaginably good.

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10. Legend of Chin (1997)

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Fan Fact: Titled after Jon Foreman's high school best friend, Willis Chin.

The closest thing to angst-y teen music Switchfoot as ever gotten to. The album was written and performed by teenagers, and at times it admittedly shows. Still, there is plenty of  fun to be had with songs like "Might Have Ben Hur" and "Chem 6A." And as young as most of the album feels, there is still some profundity to be found here with "Home" and "You."

Top 3 Songs.
3. Might Have Ben Hur
2. You
1. Home

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The band started out with Just Chad Butler, and Tim and Jon Foreman

9. New Way to be Human (1999)

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Fan Fact: Jon, Tim and Chad took seminary classes to study the works of St. Augustine and Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in preparation for this album.

With this album, Switchfoot started showing early signs of the philosophical lyrics and confrontation of hardships that the band would become famous for. Abandoning teen angst for songs about towering theologian St. Augustine and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard . However, the most obvious standout on the album is erroneously often attributed to Mandy Moore, the powerful and evocative "Only Hope." New Way to be Human represents a shift in the bad to writing lyrics for thinkers.

Top 3 Songs.
3. Sooner or Later (Soren's song)
2. Something More (Augustine's Confesison)
1. Only Hope

8. Learning to Breathe (2000)

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Fan Fact: The phrase "All will be made well" in the song "Living is Simple" is a reference to Christian mystic and theologian Julian of Norwich, who is also the first woman to publish a book.

Jon Foreman has said that being on the Christian label put the band in the situation to create "only half" of what they wanted to, and be "half of who we are." Even still, in their first three albums they had produced outstanding pieces of art. Learning to Breathe is full of inspiring and powerful songs. The band shows the beginnings of their passion for a love focused life with the song "Love is a Movement." They evoke powerful imagery of the new life Christ offers with the titular "Learning to Breathe." But, for me, this album has one of the most powerful songs they've ever released with "Economy of Mercy."

Top 3 Songs.
3. Love is the Movement
2. Learning to Breathe
1. Economy of Mercy

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In 2001 Jerome Fontamillas joined the group.

6. Beautiful Letdown (2003)

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Fan Fact: So excited to have total freedom and creative control with their new record label, the band seemed to never leave the studio. They finished this record in only two weeks.

 This is easily the album that seemed to announce the "arrival" of Switchfoot. It's also the album with their most recognizable tunes, with several songs still receiving ample radio play to this day, over ten years later. Leaving the Christian label behind, Switchfoot was able to write and produce the most honest and authentic work they had done up to that point, and it paid off. Don't mistake them leaving a Christian label for them leaving faith-inspired work, as with every Switchfoot album, there is plenty of that here.

Top 3 Songs.
3. Meant to Live
2. Twenty-Four
1. Beautiful Letdown

6. Fading West (2014)

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Fan Fact: While on their way to the studio to record songs for this album, Jon Foreman got news that his daughter was very ill and was hospitalized. As a result, Bassist Tim Foreman recorded the vocals for one of the songs, you can find it in the EP follow-up "Edge of the Earth," the song is "What it Costs."

 Fading West was arguably the bands most ambitious project yet,considering the fact the album accompanied the bands first documentary. I consider this most fun album they have ever produced, and that is definitely a good thing. Coming off the heals of the heavy Vice Verses, fun was a nice change of pace. Fading West is chalk full of jams that will definitely keep the party going. That isn't to say that the album doesn't have songs of existential doubt, social justice, or eternal hope the band is famous for, many of the songs are arguably more meaningful now than upon their release.

Top 3 Songs.
3. Slipping Away
2. The World You Want
1. Love Alone is Worth the Fight

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Drew Shirley helped with guitar parts for Beautiful Letdown before becoming an official member in 2005.

5. Oh, Gravity (2006)

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Fan Fact: Most of the bands favorite album they've ever done.

Oh, Gravity is by far the most unique and innovative album the band has ever done, and there is a clear theme throughout many of the songs: Materialism kills. Track after track seem to almost prophetically speak to that which is the root of so much evil: Money. And my goodness, does the imagery evoke powerful and convicting thoughts to wrestle with. The album also has some of their best rock 'n roll.

Top 3 Songs.
3. American Dream
2. Faust, Midas, Myself
1. Let Your Love Be Strong

4. Where The Light Shines Through (2016)

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Fan Fact: Premiered at number 10 on the US Billboard Top 200

This will probably move up on my list in the future, it has the disadvantage of being their newest release, and I'm trying to avoid recency bias. A song about hope is only as powerful as its ability to admit an apparent hopelessness, this is Switchfoot's forte. Their latest effort came when I needed most. While I was in a season of immense doubt and loss, they released their most hope filled album yet. The tracks here are among the most encouraging and hope filled songs for a person in doubt and pain I've ever heard. This doesn't mean the band abandons their rock roots, this also features some are great rock and roll tunes. It is worth mentioning that the groovy and semi-experimental song "Float" serves as a reminder of the bands willingness to try new things.

Top 3 Songs.
3. Hope is the Anthem
2. I Won't Let You Go
1. The Day That I Found God

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Switchfoot concerts, no matter where the venue, always involve Jon moving through the audience with his mic, making the show a very participatory experience.

3. Hello, Hurricane (2009)

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Fan Fact: Switchfoot built their own studio in their hometown of San Diego. This was the first album recorded in that studio.

I still remember my buddy Stephen Truebe getting this album for me for my 18th birthday. I still have it, and still listen to it frequently. I am obsessed with this album. "The Sound (John M. Perkins)" has become an all out social justice anthem and Your Love is a Song is one of the most powerful worship pieces I've ever heard. And as incredible as the ballads always are in a Switchfoot album, it is the rock heavy tunes that steal the show in Hello, Hurricane.

Top 3 Songs.
3. Sing it Out
2. The Sound (John M. Perkins' Blues)
1. Your Love is a Song

2. Vice Verses (2011)

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Fan Fact: Bassist Tim Foreman said this album has his brother's, Jon, best lyrical work.

Like Where the Light Shines Through, the timing for Vice Verses was impeccable in that it came out right before my moms pasting. Easily one of their heaviest and darkest endeavors, Vice Verses sought to seek out the non-dual nature of life. Here they took risks, doing a song unlike anything they've ever done with "Selling The News," a mixture of rap, spoken-word and rock in roll, the song is scathing an indictment on profiteer news channels (That includes Fox and CNN). The rock-heavy tunes here shine among their best, but it's the ballads in Vice Verses that make this one of their most impressive collaborative efforts yet. Tackling aching doubt, beautiful hope, fear of wasting life, and the beauty of the infinite. This album is a lyrical and melodic masterpiece, and is one of the most accomplished pieces they've ever done.

Top 3 Songs.
3. Selling the News
2. Restless
1. Where I Belong (bonus points for being my favorite song ever)

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A newer tradition for the band, a stripped down set of  the song "Hello, Hurricane," inviting the audience to sing songs of hope into the storm.

1. Nothing is Sound (2005)
Fan Fact: Despite this easily being their darkest album, it made it's debuted at number 3 on the Billboard Top 200, making it their biggest success to date.

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I think it is probably safe to say this is their most controversial album. Not only do the songs tackle everything from fearing all of life is meaningless to the commercialization of sex (tense stuff for a "Christian band"), but they also refused to book any gigs at exclusively Christian venues with the hope of taking their art to a broader and more challenging audience, as well as sticking to their conviction that their art is intended to reach everyone and exclude no one. At the end of 2015 and through much of 2016, I experienced the painful, lonely and scary process of tearing down all of my assumptions and constructs about faith and God, only for it to lead to a sort of rebirth of love and passion for my faith tradition, but with a new and different set of eyes than before. This album tackles the disenfranchisement, the pain, the fear and the sorrow that comes in deconstructing ones assumptions of God, church and country, and just as importantly, it perfectly captures the beauty, hope, joy and love of rebuilding a faith that's fallen apart. With a reverence for Divine Mystery and a knack for prophetic poetry, Jon Foreman has crafted some of their most meaningful lyrics, and him along with rested of the guys have fashioned their most haunting, eclectic collection of art to date.

Top 3 Songs.
3. Politicians
2. The Blues
1. The Shadow Proves The Sunshine

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"You matter. And there is a void in the symphony of life when you are silent."
~Jon Foreman

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