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CD Review: Switchfoot, 'Fading West' (Atlantic Records)

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It has been more than a decade since Switchfoot first broke into the mainstream with its rock single "Meant to Live," and little has changed in all that time. The band is still one of the more thought-provoking rock groups out there, writing songs that are simply about being human--warts and all--albeit with a Christian bent. Switchfoot's latest effort, Fading West, is no different in any of these regards, though it is different in some notable ways.

The album, inspired by and written during the band's 2012 world tour, veers from sounding like a traditional pop-rock record to achieve a more organic aesthetic. "Let it Out" is guided by a sort of tribal percussion and "BA55" features a more ambient, at times droney rock sound, which gives the song a more ethereal feel. Because of flourishes like these, the music on this album feels a bit more diverse than previous efforts.

Also worth noting is the fact that the lyrical themes on this record are different. Most of Switchfoot's discography is characterized by meaty, philosophical content. But a large chunk of Fading West is actually simpler than that, though far from simplistic. "When We Come Alive" is like a moment of rebirth and "Who We Are" is an unabashedly hopeful song featuring kids singing along to the chorus.

It's hard to judge this album without thinking of it as a foil or at least a bookend to 2011's Vice Verses. After all the tension, struggle and build-up of that album, to then follow it with an album that feels like an explosion of joy is too coincidental--Fading West expresses a weight that has been lifted from the band, if only for this season of its life, and it's a pretty solid release.