While I’m not going to argue that Switchfoot has ever been the most complex rock band in recent years, it’s worth pointing out that for their first 5 albums they did manage to progress significantly with each release. A tepid debut gave way to a more ambitious sophomore release, which gave way to the surprisingly catchy and meaningful pop rock gem Learning to Breathe. The addition of a keyboardist helped Switchfoot to write the most successful album of their career in multiplatinum The Beautiful Letdown, which then led to their most ambitious and cohesive work in Nothing is Sound. After this, Switchfoot has overall regressed in their sound. That’s not to say that post-NiS Switchfoot is poor, but no new meaningful ground has been explored. However, a few years after this peak Switchfoot released a 6 track EP of supposedly “lost” recordings written between Nothing is Sound and Oh! Gravity. These 6 tracks show Switchfoot at their darkest, their most complex, and, arguably, their best.
Eastern Hymns For Western Shores is the true continuation of the sound just beginning to be explored on Nothing is Sound. It is a reexamination of the haunting melodies found on tracks like “Lonely Nation” and “The Shadow Proves The Sunshine.” While it is evident in much of the EP that these are fairly underdeveloped recordings just past the demo stage, the direction being explored here is simply remarkable. Mixes of reverb-laden electric guitars with tense acoustic guitar are combined with some of Jon Foreman’s most distant, defeated vocals of his career. The lyrics are also the darkest of Switchfoot’s career, with lines like “I’m pushing hard to tear it loose / in stitches here tonight / we are ripping the seams / there’s something missing / children of the in between” and “tell me how it goes / the one about the war / the war that killed the king / our hearts are still the same / stone and ice and steel / lifeless hollow things / you say overthrow the government / who will save us from yourself?” being completely uncharacteristic of the band’s typical peppiness. Even the two rockers, “Daylight to Break” and “Dirty Second Hands” (which was later reworked for Oh! Gravity., although this version is far superior) are noticeably more diverse and gritty than the typical Switchfoot bombastic single, featuring two of the best drumming performances of their career. While they still hold tight to some conventions (verse, chorus, verse, etc.) the melodies and their execution are stunning. No track is in any way a misfire; each represents the logical progression that should follow Nothing is Sound.
Unfortunately, Switchfoot scrapped the direction entirely, deciding that, in their own words, “it just didn't feel like the next statement.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Eastern Hymns For Western Shores was the big statement that Switchfoot had in them and failed to follow through with. So instead we are left with a continued reworking of their sound with some twists, a frustrating path for a band that seemed to be on the verge of something very, very big.
I agree with this 100% except that I prefer Oh! Gravity.'s version of 'Dirty Second Hands'. The production on that song makes it my favourite Switchfoot song there is... that 5/4 acoustic groove with them weird chords and then a dissonant 11/4 chorus going back into that acoustic groove with the distortion kicked up? It just has so much more dynamic going for it than the balls-out version on this EP.
And then when they play the last chorus in 11/4 over a 5/4 drumbeat? SWITCHFOOT DOING POLYRHYTHMS? Ain't no-one going to say normal radio rock's doing that, sorry.
@Lakes, going to the same tour next tuesday (the 11th). Likewise, I am excited as fuck.
@Waior, don't get me wrong, I can tell time signature from music and stuff (classical piano training), but how can tell you time signatures just from listening to music? That's always been a mystery for me.
Well, the roundabout way is learning the song and figuring out where the phrase starts and ends. The time-tested, easiest way is good ol' counting - count from where you think the obvious beginning of a phrase starts and see how many beats there are until it restarts. Test it out, count with your fingers. Works like a charm.
After a while, certain grooves are immediately obvious but tricky ones like 11/8 still aren't immediate for me.
Hm, thanks. I think I got it.
Just one more quick question... What exactly do you gain out of random time signatures? I always see critics and such remarking on odd time signatures of random bands, but does it serve any purpose other than giving the music a weird rhythm/different feel?
On the surface, nothing really. It's just a push for creative songwriting - it's the same reason people eventually branch out (if they so wish) and write songs with more than just G, Em, D, C etc. (or whatever basic
chords in the key of the artist's liking). Whether you started experimenting with different modes and chord progressions or if you start trying different time signatures, you're usually trying to find a way to, you know, not write a song that's already been written. Creativity pushes as to be different musically - sometimes that doesn't demand weird timings, awkward jazz chords and a million diminished chords in a row. But
that sort of thing tends to be a natural development when people run out of ideas.
Which gives the listener something a little different each time. In this case, we get a weird rhythm and a different feel. And whether you know that it's a 5/4 groove or not, you notice something's different. And that
catches the listener no matter what they know about music... and that makes captivating songwriting a little closer to its target.
...of course, for some bands, weird time signatures are just there to be complex for the sake of being complex. That's kind of a gimmick in my opinion but hey.