Switchfoot - Nothing Is Sound

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Artist: Switchfoot
Album: Nothing Is Sound
Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: September 13, 2005
Review by: Michael Mayer III

Tracklisting:

  1. Lonely Nation 
  2. Stars 
  3. Happy Is a Yuppie Word
  4. The Shadow Proves the Sunshine 
  5. Easier Than Love 
  6. The Blues 
  7. The Setting Sun 
  8. Politicians 
  9. Golden 
  10. The Fatal Wound 
  11. We Are One Tonight
  12. Daisy

This one’s a grower. Whatever you do, don’t form an opinion after the first couple spins or you’ll miss out on a classic release from Switchfoot. Now, I can understand how some people may be turned off of Nothing Is Sound since it’s not as accessible as its predecessor, which was catchy and infectious. However, if you give this enough spins you’ll find it’s just as addictive. For instance, The Beautiful Letdown is known for it’s soaring vocal hooks and memorable guitar riffs fit for an arena. Here there are still great riffs (‘Politicians’ anyone?), but the ‘arena rock’ melodies are not as rampant and there is a greater focus on capturing a mood for a song that reflects the lyrics. With the addition of touring guitarist, Drew Shirley, the band is now complete and have crafted their most complex set of songs to date.

One thing that did stay the same, aside from the signature Switchfoot sound, is the variety of different sounding tracks. The ballads aren’t your typical set of ballads as ‘The Blues’ shows with its etheral guitars and perfect beat to carry Jon’s passionate voice. ‘The Shadow Proves the Sunshine’ is elegantly poetic musically as much as it is lyrically (truly a brilliant line in the title). The simple drum beat perfectly compliments the backing piano. Even the rockers don’t sound ordinary as ‘Happy Is a Yuppie Word’ is every bit as odd as the song title. The synths play a large role in giving the song a unique touch and Jon’s screaming of ‘Nothing Is Sound!’ at the end is perfect. And while the arena rock vocals may be gone there are strong melodies everywhere. ‘Politicians’ is the heaviest track with some killer riffs leading the way and a brief guitar solo near the end. It’s capped off by his vocal work to make the song truly stand out.

Lyrically, this is Jon Foreman’s masterpiece and you can tell Switchfoot have become more socially aware. I could write a whole essay on the brilliance of the lyrics and it still wouldn’t do this album justice. Even with a heightened social awareness and overall darker tone than ever before, they still show their beliefs. It’s just not as much of a focus as in the past. There is a message of hope through it all so in a sense they are the anti-Radiohead. You won’t be depressed about the state of the world after you listen to the album.

For example, ‘Happy Is a Yuppie Word’ starts off with a cynical view of society with:

Everything fails
Everything runs it’s course
A time and a place, for all of this loving war
Everyone buys, everyone’s gotta price, and nothing is new
When will all the failures rise

But then by the end of the song there is a message of looking for more and knowing it’s out there:

Looking for an orphanage
I’m looking for a bridge I can’t burn down
I don’t believe the emptiness
I’m looking for the kingdom coming down
Everything is meaningless
I want more than simple cash can buy

They are taking the opportunity to reach out and make a statement about what they see going on around them without being pushy about it. Whether they are singing with the cynical view of how sex appeal is used in the world and how humanity would rather take the easy way out, giving in to its lucid nature (‘Easier to Love’), or the state of politics that causes a division in society, Switchfoot have a lot to say.

However, for every song that touches on the negative there’s one more to lift your spirits. ‘Golden’ is sung about someone who has nothing left to give and is struggling to find more meaning to their life than just being another ordinary person. The chorus works as a reply to how that person feels much in the same way I imagine God would. It’s immediately uplifting and I don’t know how to explain it, but the way Jon sings it helps a great deal. This song also has one of my favorite lines that I find to be true in a way: ‘The more we learn the less we know’.

Of course, a review would not be complete for this album if it didn’t mention the best closing song they’ve ever written. ‘Daisy’ is a somber track headed by acoustic guitars and sweeping string arrangements at first before the full band explodes in and Jon’s angst takes over. I have never heard him hit this level of intensity as when he screams ‘Let it go’ over and over. The melodies remind me of The Beatles, especially during the chorus, and they pull out all the stops for the final conclusion of a phenomenal album.

Overall: Switchfoot have reinforced my thinking that they are one of the best bands of the decade and aren’t content with staying put musically. I can count on them to put out a fresh product with new tweaks to their sound, always pushing it to another level. There’s that saying, ‘Don’t always judge a book by it’s cover’, which rings true with music sometimes but instead it’s, ‘Don’t judge an album by your initial impressions’. When music has depth, it takes awhile to realize it. Once I did I found that Nothing Is Sound is not only one of their best albums, but one of the best this decade. Lay aside what you think you know about this band and listen with an open mind. This isn’t an album full of singles so much as a complete work of art that can’t be cut up into bits and pieces. It needs to be experienced as a whole.

Gems of this album are: ‘Lonely Nation’, ‘Happy Is a Yuppie Word’, ‘The Blues’, ‘The Shadow Proves the Sunshine’, ‘Daisy’, (or just the whole album)

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