There is at least one item that both fans and critics ought to have found missing in Switchfoot’s last two studio records: a good ballad. Each offered up a few attempts—most notably “The Blues” and “Let Your Love Be Strong”—but were ultimately unable to match Foreman’s stronger ballads (“You,” “Innocence Again,”“Twenty-Four”). Fall is the partial solution to that issue, although it’s structured more as a good way to finally release some of Foreman’s simpler songs than to do anything musically or thematically specific. In other words, Fall has nothing strictly to do with Fall.

The greater part of the EP is occupied by subtle variations of Foreman’s pop songwriting that dabble very loosely in folk and Americana music and (thankfully) do not try to camp out in those styles. “Lord Save Me From Myself”could almost be folksy re-write of “Easier than Love,” thematically speaking, but the song is saved by a smooth guitar melody, gently suspended organ chords that hide in the wings, and generally no-nonsense (if not entirely original) lines (such as “My mind is dull and faded from all these years of buying self/My eyes have seen the glory of this hollow modern shelf”). “The Moon is a Magnet,” with its pairing of acoustic guitar and bass clarinet, creates but doesn’t capitalize on a velvety mood, a fact only reinforced by the song’s not-quite-two-minute running time.

“The Cure for Pain”, however, is Foreman doing what he’s always done well; when we are completely convinced of his honesty, the result is beautiful. “Oh my Lord/To suffer like you do/It would be a lie to run away,” Foreman sings making all the rain and crying references true where they would otherwise be false. I’ve always had doubts about Foreman’s ability to make music outside Switchfoot’s well-worn rock sound, but “Southbound Train” does its best to all but dispel those fears. Although muddy in a few places, the song is a good mixture of Americana guitars, harmonica, the puffing noise of a train, with some handclaps and other sounds added for good cheer. The song is as good for its competent songwriting as Foreman’s soundly arresting voice, which manages to make every familiar line delightful: “Over and over I hear the same refrain/It’s the rhythm of my heart/And my sleepy girl’s breathing/It’s the rhythm of my southbound train.”

On “Equally Skilled,” Foreman eschews confession for broader philosophizing (the song ruminates on the uses of _our_ hands before talking about God’s hands). Set against Foreman’s cascading guitar, which lulls in and out of the song’s structure for nearly five minutes, the track is a good representation of what Foreman has written thematically for a long time (with varying levels of success), from an artificially different perspective.

_Fall_ is not, despite its necessary departure from the Switchfoot canon, an attempt at innovation. Rather, it feels a belated taste of what we haven’t been offered in the latest Switchfoot releases. After all, with three EPs to go, we probably shouldn’t have expected Foreman to reveal his whole hand yet. If _Fall_ is any indicator, then by the end of this little project we’ll have at least one album of really good material, and that’s at least a little more hopeful than it is disappointing.


Timothy Zila is a pop music critic for Patrol.

 
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