Where the Light Shines Through – Switchfoot: Music Review

As a kid, my parents used to screen the music I bought, but at the time I thought it was a torture tactic that deprived me of an inhibition to listen to heavy music instead of seeing it as a necessary filter on my developing mind. In the end, it did prevent me from latching onto legitimately bad music (shouts out to mom and dad). When I was in fourth grade, I petitioned for Linkin Park’s Meteora – an album that toed the line of hard and maybe a little dark for me at the time, so instead I was given a supposedly underwhelming alternative that I had no idea would leave such a long lasting impression – Switchfoot’s, The Beautiful Letdown. Released in 2003 as the band’s major label debut on Vanguard records, it rode the wave of early 2000’s pop rock/post grunge revival that crashed on the shores of MTV, Vh1, most mainstream radio stations, and for me – summers at Trout Lake Camps. The band’s edgy, lo-fi production style soldered with industrial sampling, and a message of honesty against a culture of excess made The Beautiful Letdown and their subsequent album, Nothing Is Sound, game changers for the band as they continued to refine their style.

Admittedly, I abandoned Switchfoot after Oh! Gravity and pre Hello Hurricane after leaving the tall pines and cold lake water of church camp behind me in high school. At the time, their music didn’t have an impact outside of being a memento to that epoch of life. Instead, I traded in grungy earworm melodies for meaner music. However, that changed after going to Winona State and moving in with a few guys my senior year – both of whom are die hard fans that stuck  with Switchfoot the whole course up to their last record, Fading West. I would hear random tracks from some of these albums here and there when my roommates cooked dinner with their Spotify playlists on, and over time I began to appreciate the direction that Switchfoot took at the break in the yellow wood. Now, that I have rekindled a liking for this California surf rock quintet, saw them live a couple years ago, and am now sinking my teeth into this new record, I’ve come to the conclusion that Switchfoot are a band that ages well. These guys are married, have children, trying to balance a career, writing from the heart, and becoming aware of their mortality (ahem, Where I Belong). Yet, in that, they manage to let their hopeful and inspiring message be the period at the end of each album cycle, after each tour, heck, after each track.

Fading West was by far the band’s most ambitious release in which Oh! Gravity’s most experimental junctures pale by comparison. I reviewed it briefly in a summer playlist post last year, noting that the channeling of all-la-Kasabian alt rock with distorted synthesizers, intriguing and energetic soundscapes, and textured production made Fading West a prolific milestone in the band’s career. I was curious in the lead up to Where the Light Shines Through what direction the band would go after the success of the former’s alternative sound…

The result on Where the Light Shines Through is telling about how the band is continuing to age, maybe a bit nostalgic, and still wanting to try on new, musically. Foreman and crew are on their tenth album.13178934_10154832778271679_6040195207218796408_n They are more mature as human beings, fathers, husbands, and musicians who have traveled the world a few times over. I will go out on a limb in saying that Where the Light Shines through is Switchfoot’s most subdued presentation, yet the most energetic, inspirational, moving, and balanced record they have released yet.

Where the Light Shines Through is a collection of introspective epistles that belong in a spectrum much like a dimmer on a light switch. There’s a whole range that reach cathartic heights on songs like the opening track Holy Water and Healer of Souls, the funky Red Hot Chili Pepper flourishes of Float, the experimental curve ball on Looking For America, and to the other end of the dimmer with arena ballads like I Won’t Let You Go, Live It Well, and Hope Is the Anthem. It reminds me of how The World Is A Thorn allowed Demon Hunter to be more frenetic, yet more hushed than ever before on the exact same record. Everything in between is some kind of fusion between the two poles that brings the listener back to homeostasis.

When I listen to Where the Light Shines Through cover to cover, I have these flashbacks to moments on all other releases. Electronic samplings, energetic rhythms, and driving funk on Bull In A China Shop and Holy Water bring me back to the experimental jive on Fading West; the driving, hopeful pace of If the House Burns Down Tonight is reminiscent of Hello Hurricane’s title track; and Live It Well’s anthemic melodies remind me of songs like Restless off Vice Verses. The best part is that within those nostalgic filigrees, Where the Light Shines Through still maintains its own identity with new flavors – particularly Lecrae’s feature on Looking For America. Point being, there is a little something for every fan from every mile marker within ten records. Some of the subtleties in production like the static in the channels of speakers, plugging instruments into amps, and rehearsal moments within the recording process that are left in these songs actually give Where the Light Shines Through a lot of character. For me, the passion soaked in inspirational sounding melodic leads, a bombastic bridge section, and Foreman’s falsetto vocals make I Won’t Let You Go this record’s most passionate delivery and one of my favorite songs. Also, Healer of Souls gritty, lo-fi tone and bouncing rhythm takes my eardrums down memory lane to Remember the Titans when the Alexandria high school football team sojourns to Gettysburg by tune of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In the Sky… therefore, I like it.

Lyrically, this record touches on Biblical themes of us being strong in our weaknesses, embracing adversity, and reflecting on faith with lines like, So let’s go there, to that place where we sing these broken prayers, where the light shines through. The wound is where the light shines through. Yeah, the wound is where the light shines through.” Though, Switchfoot’s catalog proves they’re not foreign to such subject matter, I think this album is more unapologetic – Foreman is upfront and honest about it in ways I haven’t heard since The Beautiful Letdown. In that sense, it lives up to the social media hype that the band created about how this is one of the deepest albums they’ve written with some of Foreman’s favorite lyrics he’s penned so far in his career. The title track and The Day of Found God are highlights that bring the band the closest to living out the message of hope they always sing about in perfect matrimony.

Ultimately, Where the Light Shines Through is an album that is the result of ten albums, twenty years, and all their influences being pulled more inwards to a balanced release. It’s one of their most believable performances that I look forward to taking in more and more. Though this album is not my favorite in their discography (congrats Fading West), it’s still worthwhile and pleases the fourth grader in me who bought that copy of The Beautiful Letdown with allowance money.

finished people.

Last November, I attended a one-day Catalyst conference hosted by Grace Church in Eden Prairie with the interns and select staff from Pleasant Valley. It was a great day to absorb pragmatic, Biblical knowledge from skilled communicators and experienced pastors from all over the country. Later that evening, a couple of us stuck around for Provoke and Inspire – a seminar put on by Come & Live and Steiger Ministries, both of whom equip and disciple artists as they hone their craft and message. Soon after one of my musical heroes, Mattie Montgomery, spit fire out of Isaiah 6, a guy named Chad Johnson took the mic. I didn’t know who he was, but I was captivated as I listened to him talk about a radical prayer life he developed after being told by a multiple strangers that the Lord would lead him into a seismic career change. At one point, my buddy Zach leaned over and asked me if I knew who the guy was. It turns out that Chad was the A&R of a metal and hardcore label called, Tooth and Nail Records that had a premiere roster of legendary bands – some of whom are still my favorites today. Some of Chad’s stories of transforming prayer involved a band called, Sleeping Giant. Over the years, their name had come up before in hearsay during conversations with friends of mine who are also metal and hardcore enthusiasts but never gave them a chance. Fast forwarding to last week, I was adding more music to a couple of Spotify playlists, when I ran across them again as a recommended artist under Gideon. Thinking back to the stories Chad Johnson was telling combined with the positive buzz I heard about their last record, Finished People, I gave some of it a listen….

Turns out this thing is a collection of BANGERS.The mix hits like a crowbar and is lyrically powerful! Funny enough, Will Putney, whom I praised in the last album review collection I posted in March was the man behind the mastering of this record – and it shows! The grit of the guitar tones, bass, kick drums, and even the smallest of hi hat taps are captured in a fierce package. Lead singer, Tommy Green, also writes honest, raw lyrics about Jesus showing up in the most barren of places that we write off. As I began doing some more investigating about this record on Youtube and band interviews throughout the web, I ran across this video.

I got goosebumps and teared up watching this the first time.

“I follow a master and he says I never give up on anybody… If he hadn’t wiped my record clean, I belong with them and He forgave me. And He’s a forgiving God, He is so good. And I think it’s our responsibility to not get comfortable, but to remember the ones on the bottom…. those are my people. Those are your people. We are all finished people.

Right now, the intern year is wrapping up at my church, summer is on the horizon, and we will be spending the next few months in reflection – fine tuning programs, planning,  gearing up volunteers/ourselves for the forthcoming fall, and bathing it all in prayer. I know many of my friends are in finals right now (best of luck!) and I consider this is to be one of my final assessments for this year. I can confidently say it’s been an amazing 12 months of growth that was catapulted by God allowing me to step into an environment where I can experiment with and teeth out my passions, abilities, and gifts in the company of incredible people who are passionate about the work of Jesus. This time of self-discovery has given me a lot of insight about how the Lord is molding me and I think part of that is the result of being in recovery. I’m beginning to feel more comfortable in my own skin and seeing the blemishes I have as part of my testimony rather than embarrassing scars to cover with good works.

Participation in Celebrate Recovery on Friday nights and in step group has taught me a lot about the heart God has for people at the bottom – for the people who live with the feeling of living in the trap doors beneath rock bottom at the stranglehold of narcotic abuse and other addictions, domestic violence, anger, mental health issues, and imprisonment. I can recall Friday nights where people have come through the front doors carrying the baggage of multiple lifetimes worth of pain and suffering. With sunken eyes and fractured spirits, they sit down in the student ministry center for large group and you can see it in their facial expressions. They’re hurting. They feel as if they’ve run out of chances and that the world has closed the door on them, locked it, and put yellow do not cross tape around it. They feel like finished people.

Though Tommy Green talks specifically about prison in this video, I think we can all think of a time when we were imprisoned by our own bitterness, insecurity, shortcomings, addictions, and broken relationships. Maybe prison has been something you’ve experienced. Biblical heroes like Paul wrote whole New Testament letters in cell blocks! He says in 1st Corinthians 15 that if Christ was not raised for the dead then were are to be pitied among all men and we are without any hope. He even called it, the first importance. I read a verse like that and remember that without the grace and forgiveness of a loving God who wiped my record clean – separating my sins like David said in Psalm 103 as far as the east is from the west, I would have taken a wrong turn at the fork and crashed my car in the fog of addiction.

We talk a lot in Celebrate Recovery that step one in recovery is snapping back to reality and addressing denial. If we truly had a handle on everything, we wouldn’t have a need for the ministry to exist. Quite honestly, we wouldn’t need God either. In Romans chapter 7, Paul talks about the conflict he has of wanting to do the right thing, but the internal conflict he has with God and the fallibility of his human nature fails him…. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

We are all finished people…

But God isn’t finished with us.

There is no greater honor that I have as an intern, roommate, friend, son, and brother to see people pick up their crosses and rise above their hurts, habits, and hangups. Seeing the transformation in people’s lives this year has been incredible and evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work, but the most awesome moments for me are the ones where people begin to first believe that there’s life on the other end of it all. The conversations I have when the wheels begin to turn in people’s minds and hearts that there is hope are the moments that remind me of why I do what I do. Progress happens in the minute details. They occur in the margins of our lives, the small decisions, and “minor” tweaks in our attitudes, routines, and schedules. Those build up in capitol to big decisions that will be made well when push comes to shove. I love being front row for those decisions in the lives of people at Celebrate Recovery, my church, family, and friends. It’s one of the best things I get to carry with me as a reminder of what the Lord has done this year and what He has in store next year as well. Those moments remind me that those are God’s people, therefore they are my people. And I’m in the trenches with them.

Philippians 1:2 says, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” I am a work progress that has only been made possible when I came to the transforming conclusion that without Jesus I am a finished person – hardened and unaware of the collateral damage I was causing. I have the honor in being part of a community where we are comfortable opening those padlocked, tightly secured, and taped off doors to God and each other. It may come at different points for everyone and random bones from the skeletons we keep in there may stumble out, but there is no more satisfying feeling to see someone have the courage to turn the key to those doors, take a deep breath, and examine what’s inside.

The ones who don’t want to get out of bed because their depression is too much to handle and need someone to comfort them; the ones who walk into a room alone with sunken spirits, because they feel forgotten; the ones who have been abused, violated, and hurt; the ones who sit in a cell block; the ones who suffer from addictions; the ones who grieve… those are God’s people. Those are OUR people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

kintsugi.

Once I sat down and started writing this, I began to feel it flesh out like a part two for a previous post I did about a passage in Hosea that Jefferson Bethke commented on, so that’s how I’m going to treat this – as a follow up that gives some absolution to our walks in the wilderness. What happens when we return from those excursions? What do we do with those conversations with God when the darkness of the wilderness sets behind a new day for us to live? What purpose do those scars have now that we’ve come back to the real world? I think the overarching question transitions from how do we allow the Lord to point out and process them, to how we allow people in on the stories behind them. Who do they impact?

Keeping with the theme of commentary from Jefferson Bethke, I recently watched an online sermon of him speaking at Pastor Craig Groeschel’s church in Oklahoma City about the concept of Biblical healing. Bethke spoke about how scars are our open books that leaf through chapters of screw-ups, pitfalls, and ultimately end in Jesus’ redemption. He made this brilliant analogy for how God illuminates those scars that caught me hook, line, and sinker, but I’ll return to that soon.

 

At this point I’m waist deep in this recovery process wading through our Friday night Ceebrate Recovery curriculum. In the closing chapters of our material, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church calls this process of paying it forward, Recycling Pain. Think about the process of recycling – you take what’s considered a “waste product” and somehow make it into a useful resource. The catch is that Jesus doesn’t consider us wasted products, even though we consider our character defects as undesirable. Romans 5:8 says, “When we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” For example, some of the relationships in my life that I severed have been the result of wanting to leave parts of my life behind me, thinking that time and separation will heal those wounds. While the separation was healthy, the clocks have ticked too long for me to ignore many of them anymore. I grew weary from running from my problems, because every exit door led me deeper into isolation from the people I cared about most. Facing the fact that I had become calloused is part of the harsh reality of allowing myself to be in God’s repair. In fact, Paul says in Romans 12, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” That’s an imperative, not a second or third string play option. While I won’t get into details, I’ve recently had some therapeutic conversations with people about my shortcomings as my way of being at peace with people in situations that are laced with a lot of unnamed tension. I used to think that those relationships were wasted. Unable to salvage any of its raw materials. I began to wonder for a while…

“Can I really be whole again after all I’ve done?”

 

In this sermon, Jefferson Bethke talked about an ancient Japanese art form, called Kintsugi – literally translated as “gold joinery” that is also namesake for the latest album from famed indie rock outfit, Death Cab For Cutie (maybe I’ll review that, soon ;)). As I began to research, Japanese culture has high esteem for the things that are broken and put back together. To them, things like furniture with cracks, splits, and rot in the wood are seen to have character and experience. Every person that has sat and conversations that have taken place on them are intricate parts of a story these objects tell. It seems kind of funny when we contrast that to a westernized culture that places a consumerist value in the newest gadget. The old is left to waste with the memories latched to it. As Bethke began to explain, Kintsugi is when someone would mix gold and silver dust with a strong adhesive and put pottery back together, kind of like this…

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“The actual places where it broke is exactly where you’re eye’s drawn. It’s this place of beauty and glory. I think that’s an interesting way of thinking about Jesus…. might Jesus be the one who says, I not only want to heal you, but sometimes the very place that you’re broken and I’ve healed you, become the most glorious parts about you.”

You feel those goosebumps, too?

 

Those wounds that God exposes to us in those journeys through the wilderness are usually the very things that tell the best stories about where we are, now. We may night realize it immediately and it may even take years to finally arrive at a point of realization. 2nd Corinthians 12:9 says, But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I actually used to have zero desire to work with those who had addictions. Somehow I figured I could “get over this,” leave my addiction behind me, and move on with something new – as if this piece of me would be trashed, never to be recycled, and left to rot. As it turns out, my chinks in the armor have become the places that can only be protected by Jesus. When I began to look in the rearview mirror and allow the Lord to mend those relationships I was so afraid to face, they’ve actually become vignettes that fit into this personal meta narrative of the Lord’s redemption in my life. They’re joys I get to celebrate and know that reconciliation is the result of God healing those third degree burns with gauze and grace – the gold laced within our brokenness.

The brokenness in our life experiences are not in vain. They didn’t go to waste. Our stories are unique. They give us an angle that no one else can fully understand, but people can relate to. People can relate when they see God in the cracks of our broken pots, plates, relationships, job situations, and spiritual lives. “Me too” are two of the most powerful words we can say to someone else. What are those things that you can allow God to use as the gold and silver lining? Though they may feel like salt in a wound to say or confess, you may be surprised what happens when the Lord uses those scars to illustrate the best stories of His work.