Jon Foreman’s haunting melodies are sung throughout the world as the lead singer and songwriter of Switchfoot, but the San Diego native knows how to do more than just deliver an exceptional rock tune. Sunlight is the first EP in his series of four to be released this year, under the title The Wonderlands. Detailing the transition between 24 hours in a day, the first in the series painting the colors of the dawn breaking, birds chirping, and drops of dew on the grass.
Opening with “Terminal,” you will be struck by how carefully each layer of this song is crafted. The acoustic guitar is balanced with the light touch of the keys, and the unassuming sound of percussion keeps the melody moving forward before Foreman’s vocals are added. The poetry within the lyrics is rich in themes of life and death, and we see the singer wrestle with the concept of humanity as “living souls with terminal hearts.”
Pulling back in places to add to the ambiance of the morning sky, cymbals come in and enable you to see streaks of pink and orange coloring the dawn sky. The ability of this tune to carry such a melancholy, yet hopeful message floors me. How is it possible to sing about the fragility of life and still leave the listener full of hope for tomorrow? Yet somehow Foreman does it in this opening track, and it will leave you full of awe, as if you are witnessing the sunrise yourself.
A funky and off beat percussion opens “The Mountain,” and strings give a sweetness to the tune about feeling as though you are off track in life and are being pulled in the wrong direction by earthly lusts and desires. More than any of his previous work, this song carries components of a classical melody, and at times you feel as though you are hearing the work of a symphony. The picking of acoustic guitar allows this song to transition from the early flecks of morning light to a lit up sky, as Foreman’s vocals sit meek yet resolute in his message that he will “stand up to this mountain of mine.”
“You Don’t Know How Beautiful You Are,” is a stand out track on Sunlight, and it is within this song that you feel as though you have truly entered the warmth of the morning sun. A solid percussion gives it spirit and the background additions of whistling and keys means it gives off great warmth that will strip you of your natural defenses. In this way, the track naturally emulates the song’s message of innate worth and beauty, and the effect is mesmerizing.
Bringing in the harmonica for “Caroline,” a folky melody tells the heartfelt tale of a girl who lost her way and has given her heart away to the world of tabloids and show biz. With a gentle yet consistent melody, you envision eating breakfast on the front porch after returning home from a long trip, and as the keys, acoustic guitar and xylophone build with the layering of vocals on its completion, you truly feel like you are at home and have recovered the innocence of your childhood.
A music lover’s delight, “Patron Saint of Rock and Roll” gives a punch, despite its lovingly produced instrumental section. Describing the hypocrisy of the church and how out of place the he feels within in it (a la the need for a patron saint of rock and roll), an organ emulates the struggle between religiosity and the love so desperately needed as Foreman ethereally sings, “Christ alone could save my soul.” Contrasting the ‘love’ shown in religious behavior (and even bumper stickers!) with the desperate needs of people who are lost, destitute and struggling, he highlights the brokenness he alone feels in this disparity. Bringing in a swing towards the end of the song with a brass band, an absurdity comes into play which increases the grievous nature of the bright, yet melancholy track.
Finishing up with “All of God’s Children,” we are given an acoustic tune that perfectly wraps up the era of ‘Sunshine’ with a sensation of hopefulness and the dawn on of new things. Predominantly created using the picking of the guitar, Foreman’s vocals carry a weight that seems to chronicle the beauty and depravity of the human existence. As they speak of longing and he says, “Oh I’ve been waiting for love to give birth, for new life to show pain it’s worth. Oh I’ve been waiting for peace on earth, like a newborn child,” this track stands in stark contrast to the previous song which was an ode about hypocrisy in the church. Instead, “All of God’s Children” uses simple instrumentation to emphasize that truth and love are truly shown in the most unknown and un-flashy circumstances. It recounts the promises of the Bible, and discusses a unity within the church that is the polar opposite to the absurdity of “The Patron Saint of Rock and Roll.”
The most beautiful aspect of listening to Jon Foreman’s Sunlight is the story it takes you on. Within each song is a raw and compelling tale that acts as a reflection of Foreman’s own life, as well as society as whole. Yet above this, each song acts a bridge to another hour of the day. You can see the sun peaking over the horizon and feel the warmth of it on your skin as the EP progresses.
A delight to the ears, heart and the imagination, Sunlight tackles some of the most debilitating and important topics of life with a lightness and hope that will strengthen you. About to head on tour as a solo co-headliner and as the front man of Switchfoot with NEEDTOBREATHE this Summer, Foreman will perform this masterpiece live on October 24 in San Diego in a 24 hour event. In the meantime, Sunlight drops on May 26 and my oh my, is it a treat.