Building upon their 20+ years on the CCM scene, San Diego-based group SWITCHFOOT is set to release their latest work, Native Tongue, this Friday. The project becomes the 11th full-length album for this well-known group, who has enjoyed millions of records sold, countless successful tours, and a GRAMMY Award. Following the success of their previous tour and album Where The Light Shines Through in 2017, the group decided to pause and refocus on their purpose. Realizing their overriding drive was to “pursue joy,” the group got to work on this 14-track project, constructing an array of styles and sounds. “Joy is an incredible motivator,” says frontman vocalist Jon Foreman. “It’s only to be found in the moment, not in the past or future. That’s what music is to us: The ever-present joy of the ever-present now… There was no ‘should’ or ‘ought.’ It was a beautiful freedom. Songs we wrote didn’t have to turn into anything, as long as we were pursuing joy. That’s where this record was born.”
Though the group is often labeled as an American alternative rock band, this record proclaims it cannot be categorized. Perhaps the most defiant and notable track is “Dig New Streams,” a tune that even drummer Chad Butler calls a rule breaker. With moments reminiscent of a Beatles tune, the song has fun experimentation with time signature, building whimsical rhythms and styles that keep the listener on their toes. The tune initially starts with guitar, vocals, and airy synth tones, but soon morphs its sound as lead vocals and a staccato accompaniment interject for a few phrases. Next, the song turns a corner and breaks into an upbeat feel with fun instrumentation and after a while, takes another complete turn into a unique walking rhythm featuring drum set and vocals. This track takes listeners on a looping rollercoaster, exposing a different sound with each turn and encouraging us to lay down our hang-ups and come to God.
Other tunes bear some of the epic rock volume and energy that many associate with SWITCHFOOT. In “Let It Happen,” an electric guitar-led melody carries the song under the emotionally raw lead vocals, as the lyrics embrace the unknown, yet secure, nature of the future held by God. “Take My Fire” uses driving guitar and quick-stepped, mostly spoken lyrics to declare with confidence that no one can steal the fire within us. With the title track, the band uses a swanky start, leading into rhythmic beats that firm the song’s structure. This tune implores us to drive out hatred and return to our intended foundation of love and humanity. To drive home this message, vocals and simple sustained tones close out the last few phrases of the song.
SWITCHFOOT opts for a chill vibe in songs such as “Prodigal Soul.” A simple duo of acoustic guitar chords and vocals carry the first verse, building slightly for the chorus, and then settling back in with simple drum set accompaniment for the second verse. The vulnerable vocals mirror the heart of the song, professing our desire to return to God but admitting our inadequacy at times to do so on our own. With its slow, sweet, feel-good groove, “Wonderful Feeling” blocks out all the distractions and appreciates the sacred gift of the joy found in the moment.
SWITCHFOOT aimed to compile this project from the products of what brought them joy, rather than through a concerted effort, and it is evident when listening to the record. Every track is so different from the last in terms of style and intonation, yet a sense of happiness and freedom pervade them all. Veteran followers of SWITCHFOOT will celebrate the rocking anthems of their traditional sound, while new and old fans alike will enjoy the spectrum of fun musical experimentation. Vocalist Foreman concludes, “My hope, for this record, is that it would be a reminder that there are new streams available for us to travel down, and that hatred is not our language, love is our native tongue."
For those who can’t wait til Friday, the album is available for preorder now on a variety of online services, and as a bonus, there are 4 instant downloads with preorder- “Native Tongue,” “Voices,” “All I Need,” and “Let It Happen.”