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JFH Music Review


Switchfoot, Interrobang
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Switchfoot
Interrobang



Artist Info: Discography
Genre(s): Alternative / Rock
Album length: 11 tracks: 43 minutes, 31 seconds
Street Date: August 20, 2021


READER RATING:   


It can be tremendously interesting to see the collision of artistic restlessness and pop sensibilities. When a beloved artist (be they a writer, movie director or a band) follows a certain itch and produces something slightly more challenging than normal, it's always a bit of a gamble that their established fans will follow them and that newer ones will take the time to absorb a more off-kilter work. U2's fans struggled mightily with the experimental and difficult No Line On The Horizon and Zooropa albums, while suspenseful director M. Night Shyamalan has only recently regained viewers after many years wandering through genre experiment films like Lady In The Water and The Village.

Switchfoot's career arc has followed in the same pattern. The band has often been a mostly anthemic, crowd-pleasing group (just watch the audience when those chiming chords from "Dare You To Move" start to ring out), but they've also had a fair amount of sonic invention as well. It's hard to believe, but Switchfoot is heading towards the twenty-five-year mark as a band. There may not be a more beloved band out there, or one that continually challenges their fans record after record. In their last three outings, they have produced a California, sun-drenched harmony album (Where The Light Shines Through), a poppy-yet earnest and twisty record (Native Tongue) and a batch of cover tunes that spanned R&B to strummy folk rock (Covers – EP).

In the spirit of that artistic restlessness comes the band's enigmatically titled new album, Interrobang, a work as (initially) confusing as its name (or its cover art). But given repeated listens and careful attention to lyrics and references, Interrobang is an interesting album, but, alas, one that's largely missing any sort of "hook" or overt pop chorus that rewards the listener for making it through all those twists and turns, starts and stops, and off rhythms of its songs.

According to the band's album notes, the title, Interrobang, comes from a combination of the technical name for the question mark (the "interrogation point"), and the printer's slang for an exclamation point ("bang"). And unfortunately, that mixed messaging of the album title seems to come through in the sometimes-aimless song paths and tempos that make up the bulk of the album.

That's not to say that the band is off, thematically speaking. If fact, Jon Foreman's lyrics are on point and as sharp as ever. Foreman is one of the keenest wordsmiths working in music today, with one eye on the heavens, and the other on the headlines. In the opening track, "Beloved," Foreman's opening salvo of words neatly encapsulates the last year's heartache and uncertainty: "Maybe all the world is insecure / maybe all of us are looking for a cure / maybe, that can finally reassure, maybe / we're chasing after money like a drug / but the money's never gonna be enough / no, it's never gonna take the place of love, maybe / I'm still looking for the truth, but I can't seem to find it in the news / when it all starts singing like the blues, maybe / the days start feeling like the nights / like it's just another way to lose a fight / like I'm the only one who's looking for the light, maybe"?

The song's meandering, mid-tempo shuffling could perhaps be written to match the "blues" mentioned in the lyrics. And while the tune eventually "takes off" both thematically and rhythmically towards the end, it's a tough way to start an album. Following tracks "Lost 'Cause" and "Fluorescent" both have interesting musical palettes (especially that repeated string arrangement in "Fluorescent"), but largely follow the same mid-tempo trot, forming a bit of a bummer of an opening trilogy of songs.

The album's best moment is the rocker "If I were You," which comes as close to a classic, thrashy Switchfoot song as anything on the album. Alas, the melancholy quickly returns with the sincere-yet-sleepy "The Bones Of Us." This song's ambient texture is pleasant in that "late night drive" sort of way, but its placement after the album's fastest track is a bit jarring. The melody here is soothing, and this would have made for a great ending track or closing coda for the album. Things kick back up with "Splinter," with Foreman shouting out "my mind is at war / I lie awake in bed / like a splinter in my hand / like a splinter in my head" in his best rock and roll delivery. "I Need You (To Be Wrong)" continues the downtempo, moody trend, with the band doing their best Radiohead impersonation for a song that's lyrics really call for a more strident musical bed. Thankfully, the ending "Electricity" does live up to its namesake and finishes the album on an upward note, both musically and thematically.

And Radiohead might be the best comparison here. Like that band's divisive KID A or Wilco's similarly sonically moody Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Interrobang will likely divide fans of Switchfoot. Some will see it as a glum masterpiece, accurately reflecting the dark past few years of pandemic and politics, while others will lament the lack of a "spark" in the music and tune out for a bit. Really, the choice is up to the listener. But to these ears, the album sounds overbaked and overthought, even if tremendously sincere.

- Review date: 8/19/21, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com



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JFH Staff's Second Opinion



interrobang is truly the result of the guys in Switchfoot taking a hard look at the events of 2020 and making something out of it. Mellower, small-scale garage rock tunes pair with 80s-inspired psychedelic tones that paradoxically clash with the urgent lyrical themes of anxiety, disillusionment, and the fight for harmony. This odd combination makes for one of their least earwormy albums; it's very easy to forget which song is which and where they lie in the tracklist. Getting acclimated to the variety of reverbs and muted effects will take a few listens.

On the face of it, the record doesn't seem like it can become a fan favorite, but much applause should be given to the guys for the risk they've taken. They haven't sounded this pensive since Nothing Is Sound - hope does peek through, but there are a lot of questions Jon is content with leaving unanswered. For me, their last few albums have been lacking in unified aesthetic, so the fact that they are able to create something so sonically cohesive with songwriting so clearly intentional this late into their career is something every fan can respect. - Review date: 8/12/21, Mason Haynie of Jesusfreakhideout.com

 

JFH Staff's Additional 2 Cents


    First things first---this set of songs is the strongest and most interesting since fan favorite Vice Verses in 2011. Interrobang is a musical full-dive into waters only previously cautiously toe-dipped in on the rare EP, Eastern Hymns for Western Shores. The song that immediately came to mind was favorite deep cut for this reviewer, "Daylight to Break." Interrobang has an overall bright feel due to the use of vocal harmony, so it actually feels "other," a direction they have yet to explore. The best musical comparison I can think of is their surf-rock filtered through the psychedelic 60s with a heavy emphasis on the glorious harmonies of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. They do all this without losing the core of what has defined them as a band: introspective, philosophical, yearning lyrics and fantastic guitar work, while adding some of the musical atmospheres and left-turns that featured on albums The Beautiful Letdown and Oh! Gravity. "Beloved" is a terrific and surprising (in a good way) way to start the album with its Beatlesque musical hook kicking in near the 1:30 mark. Other favorites are rocker "If I Were You," the passionate and driving mid-tempo rocker "Splinter," and the slow simmer of first single "I Need You (to be Wrong)." In addition, I've been returning to the final three songs of the album, enjoying the ominous vibe of the string section drum combo on "Wolves," the sincere acoustic groove of "Backwards in Time," and the sweet sentiment of closer "Electricity." The latter features Beach Boys-soaked harmonies, and drew me in upon first listen all the way through to the last notes. It's a fantastic close to a very strong album. This is a must for 2021, fans of the band, and is sure to make a play for Top 10 album of the year for this long-time fan. - 8/18/21 Josh Balogh


    Switchfoot's Interrobang, at first listen, feels pretty left-field for the seasoned San Diego band, but after repeat listens, the songs take on a life of their own, and the overall more laid-back, pensive feel of the record harkens back to the band's first couple albums in the late 90's, early 00's. Interrobang is Switchfoot's Inland (Jars of Clay) in its darker, more contemplative nature and experimental approach. Highlights include "fluorescent," "if i were you," "beloved," "backwards in time" (with some welcomed lead vocals from Tim Foreman) and "electricity." - 8/19/21 John DiBiase

 

. Record Label: Fantasy Records
. Album length: 11 tracks: 43 minutes, 31 seconds
. Street Date: August 20, 2021
. Buy It: Apple Music
. Buy It: Amazon.com (CD)
. Buy It: Amazon.com (Vinyl)
. Buy It: AmazonMP3

  1. beloved (5:34)
  2. lost ‘cause (3:44)
  3. fluorescent (3:35)
  4. if i were you (3:48)
  5. the bones of us (4:02)
  6. splinter (3:47)
  7. i need you (to be wrong) (3:33)
  8. the hard way (3:26)
  9. wolves (3:10)
  10. backwards in time (4:13)
  11. electricity (4:38)
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