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Intersection of Life and Faith

Fall and Winter

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Fall and Winter
Sounds like … Switchfoot's lead singer performing indie folk along the lines of Elliott Smith, Iron & Wine, and Derek WebbAt a glance … Jon Foreman's first two indie folk EPs are a reminder of his considerable songwriting skills, as well as God's enduring presence through dark timesTrack Listing

Fall

The Cure for Pain Southbound Train Lord, Save Me from Myself Equally Skilled The Moon Is a Magnet My Love Goes Free

Winter

Learning How to Die Behind Your Eyes Somebody's Baby White as Snow I Am Still Running In Love

No need to read too much into Jon Foreman releasing a series of solo EPs; he has no intention of disbanding Switchfoot. But like other prolific songwriters who release side projects, Foreman has several songs that would be out of character for the band to record—softer and more intimate than his more rocking material. So with the blessing of his band and the encouragement of fans, Foreman has developed a 4-part EP series, each named after one of the four seasons. Though available for individual digital download, the songs are also available as a physical release through EMI's Credential Recordings, bundling them into 2-disc sets. The first is Fall and Winter, with Spring and Summer expected to release later in 2008. I have to say that I love the creative packaging, designed for the two collections to interlock into a single set. And I also love that Foreman has started with Fall … but more on that in a bit.

Two things are immediately apparent from these EPs, the first being the sound. Switchfoot it ain't, though it clearly comes from the same creative mind responsible for "Let That Be Enough," "24," and "Let Your Love Be Strong." Think of these EPs as the lo-fi, indie folk side of Jon Foreman, along the lines of Elliott Smith and Iron & Wine. Acoustic guitar drives most of the self-produced tracks (executive-produced by Foreman's mentor Charlie Peacock), with occasional strings, horns, woodwinds, harmonica, sparse percussion, and more thrown in for color and variation. In contrast to Switchfoot's radio-friendly pop/rock, this music is quiet and contemplative, requiring deeper engagement and more active listening to fully appreciate.

The other noticeable quality is Foreman's clear-cut Christian lyricism. Those who have previously accused Switchfoot of "burying the message" won't be able to here. Perhaps Foreman has regained freedom to express himself since this was not recorded for a mainstream label. Yet Foreman never comes across as contrived or towing the line for the faithful. Instead, it's relatable, honest, and at times, gut-wrenchingly broken, to the point where parts of Fall and Winter can seem downright depressing. But then that's why the order of these EPs is so important.

Fall, like the season for which it is named, carries an air of melancholy. "The Cure for Pain" seems particularly autobiographical, as Foreman references previous Switchfoot songs while reflecting on his first decade of music: "Ten years trying to sing it all away/But the water keeps falling from my tries/And heaven knows I tried to find a cure for the pain/Oh my Lord, to suffer like you do/It would be a lie to run away." There's a similar weariness in the homesickness of "Southbound Train" and the hurt in "My Love Goes Free."

These songs play their part in the overall theme, which becomes clearer from the Ecclesiastes-inspired "Lord, Save Me from Myself": "This world is where I breathe/Let it never be called home." Foreman's strongest composition is "Equally Skilled," which bleakly addresses humanity's capacity for good and evil, yet the melody almost seems more hopeful when it changes keys for the verse about Jesus helping us overcome our weakness. It's perfectly paced and a brilliant message overall, drawing on the text of Micah 7: "I will be patient as the Lord punishes me for the wrongs I've done against Him/After that He'll take my case, bringing me to light and to justice for all I have suffered."

If all that seems a little dark, Winter goes further as the season often associated with death. "Learning How to Die" wrestles with how we're not meant for life on this earth: "All along I thought I was learning how to take/How to bend not how to break/How to live not how to cry/But really I've been learning how to die." The folksy "Behind Your Eyes" relates our need to share our pain and bear one another's burdens, while "Somebody's Baby" tells of a homeless woman's hurt, shame, and death: "She dreams about heaven, remembering hell/As the place that she visits and knows all too well."

Obviously influenced by the Psalms of Lament and psalms about confession, Foreman adapts Psalm 51's confessional for "White as Snow," using plucked instrumentation that's inventive and hypnotic. Building on that is "I Am Still Running," a psalm-like hymn/prayer of perseverance in spite of suffering: "Build me a home inside your scars/Build me a home inside your song/Build me a home inside your open arms/The only place I ever will belong." Concluding Winter is "In Love," an Eastern sounding lament about love permeating all things, even in the hard times.

While Foreman's stripped-down sound won't appeal to all Switchfoot fans, it's an interesting change of pace that allows him to try new instrumentation and lay his soul bare in some of his most mature songwriting to date. And though the songs represented here seem rather sad in tone, remember that lamentations are prevalent throughout the Old Testament. Perhaps the best part about Fall and Winter is that we can look ahead with hope and joy to Spring and Summer, and all that it's likely to represent.

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