Nothing Is Sound


Columbia, 2005

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It seems like every year now an album sneaks up on me.  I catch something on the radio or TV or the ‘net that sparks interest and I end up going back and finding an album that I completely missed that turns into an instant favorite.  In 2004, it was Ian Hunter’s Rant (2001); in 2005 it was Jet’s Get Born (2003).

And in late 2006, it was Switchfoot’s 2005 disc Nothing Is Sound.

The hook that initially reeled in this fish was “Stars” -- not the familiar electrified album version, but one of those live-in-the-studio acoustic radio performances early last year.  The sound and lyrics grabbed me right away -- richly melodic, searching, philosophical, and ultimately optimistic.

The same could be said of most of Switchfoot’s music, which could be shorthanded as sounding something like Bono fronting Jimmy Eat World or the Gin Blossoms.  They write songs about big issues and ideas -- philosophical, societal, spiritual -- and then set them to even bigger guitars.  They emerged out of the CCM camp, but you won’t find any sermons on this lyric sheet; this is a Christian band that chooses to ask open-ended, thought-provoking questions about life and the universe rather than proselytize.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The electric version of “Stars” is one of the highlights here, launching with a heavy 45-second instrumental intro that sounds like Doug Hopkins channeling Jimmy Page (or vice versa), fat, angular riffs propelling the song forward like a slingshot.  The verses are an often-clever rumination on feeling alone in the universe -- “I’ve been thinking maybe I’ve been partly cloudy / Maybe I’m the chance of rain” -- that erupts at the chorus into a spiritual affirmation -- “When I look at the stars I see someone else / When I look at the stars I feel like myself.”

Ironically, after twenty or so listens to this disc, the captivating “Stars” has dropped to fourth or fifth on my list of favorite songs here.

Tops is “The Shadow Proves The Sunshine,” a hymn-like poem set to ringing, chiming guitars over echoey, martial drums, a stark, insightful, gorgeous cut that would fit seamlessly into The Joshua Tree (and that, sir, is quite a compliment).  Not far behind are the thunderous opener “Lonely Nation,” a spot-on screed against empty materialism (“We are slaves of what we want”), and the late-album stadium-sized singalong “We Are One Tonight.”

To their credit, the band -- Jonathan Foreman (vocals/guitar), Tim Foreman (bass), Chad Butler (drums), Jerome Fontamillas (keyboards) and Andrew Shirley (guitar) -- put you through some changes between these big numbers.  “Easier Than Love” goes for a bouncier, frothier sound, though ultimately there’s a fairly heavy love-versus-sex message wrapped inside.  “The Blues” is just what it sounds like, but surprisingly moving at that (“Does justice never find you? Do the wicked never lose? / Is there any honest song to sing besides these blues?”).  And “Golden” is a suitably shimmering, jangly affirmation for a friend. 

These songs -- all written by Jon Foreman, with three co-written by brother Tim -- manage to rock with authority without sacrificing an ounce of meaning or purpose.  The ability of adrenaline-fueled numbers like “Politicians” to make you think and head-bang at the same time is a pretty neat trick.  My only possible criticism is that this album has been mixed so pristinely that the band’s natural thunder feels actually scrubbed too clean in places.

That quibble aside, this is a terrifically entertaining and thought-provoking slab of guitar rock, and one that’s already inspired me to dig deeper into Switchfoot’s catalog.  Highly recommended.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


I totally agree. This is one of my favorite albums of 2006. I'm glad I got past the christian rock preconceptions and gave it a listen.

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