The contrast of dark and light makes for a striking metaphor. On one side, you’ve got the visual, which pits the day versus the night and the brightly lit rooms versus the pitch black ones. But on the other side, you’ve got the intangible, also considered the spiritual. The latter expresses the entire spheres of good and evil through descriptions of light and dark, and that a tug-and-pull exists between these two moral conditions. It makes the world what it is, and it makes us who we are in the process. San Diego rock outfit Switchfoot play to this metaphor on their newest effort, Where the Light Shines Through, relying on high-toned guitars, radiant choruses, and hopeful lyrics to push brightness to the absolute brink of humanity.
2014’s Fading West was the biggest departure of Switchfoot’s career, acting as a documentary soundtrack more than simply a full-length album. This ended up being both the record’s biggest triumph and biggest flaw. While it stretched the boundaries of the group’s alternative rock base to include pop sensibilities and a more global array of sounds, it also left out a lot of the rawness and cavernous energy that made its predecessor, Vice Verses, a high point in the band’s discography. Those disappointed in Fading West should feel more comfortable with the follow-up, a more organic-sounding rock album that still clings to the illuminating successes of its predecessor. Though it lacks the band’s usual post-grunge punch, it still maintains much of the same overall impact.
The first track, “Holy Water”, is by far the heaviest track on the album, incorporating high-flying pop-rock melodies into its verses and rising up with thick, piercing guitar riffs in its chorus. However, the tune is a bit misleading for fans of previous Switchfoot works; the tracks that follow opt for a more down-to-earth approach than the robust rock opener, and they take the time to lay out a smoother, steadier groove. “Float” has steadily been climbing the ranks as Switchfoot’s most-played song on Spotify, and it deserves its merits. Though missing the lively crunch that resonates so well with fans, it’s still just as palpable as an atmospheric dance anthem in the vein of MUTEMATH. The title track and “If the House Burns Down Tonight” throw pop vibes on top of rock cores, and in between them, “I Won’t Let You Go” is a somewhat succulent ballad. It may not be as memorable as “Your Love Is a Song” or “Restless”, but it still gets the job done.
The message encapsulated in the songs is one of the album’s obvious high points. Not only does it feature some of the most inspired lyrical content of Jon Foreman’s career, but it manages to come off as some of the band’s most optimistic material. “Shake This Feeling” hints back at the glare of Fading West, with Foreman singing about the nagging feeling that “we fall apart better than we fall in love.” “Live It Well” is the most flavorful of the album’s slow songs. This is especially true considering its message about living life to the fullest — one that’s sure to resonate despite its generic, watered-down delivery. Switchfoot takes a few risks, too; the best instance comes in “Looking for America”, which features Christian rapper Lecrae and tells of a U.S. that can be better than it is right now. The hope for change both confronts the darkness and pushes light to the forefront, and it vividly displays the album’s overarching metaphor amid guitar strums and layered vocals.
“Looking for America” best depicts Switchfoot’s aim with Where the Light Shines Through. Bands with a Christian message tend to speak of a fallen world full of hurt, and inter-relational care and understanding is what the California rockers say can positively affect the world as a whole. “This ain’t a battle, it’s a lifelong war,” Foreman states on the closer, “Hope Is the Anthem”. That’s what the idea of a light and dark fight truly gets at: continually spreading love to combat hate. Though Switchfoot’s 10th full-length doesn’t match the power of many of their past albums on a musical or emotional level, Where the Light Shines Through still acts as a beacon in a world that desperately needs it.
Alternative Rock | Vanguard Records