This review originally appeared on NewReleaseToday.com.
Jon Foreman, the unassuming surfer frontman of renowned alt rock band Switchfoot, has been in the spotlight since the band’s formation nearly two decades ago. After he had already established his voice as one of unconventionally honest spirituality, a trademark that won Switchfoot one of the most genuinely successful crossover careers in Christian music history, Jon decided that some of the songs stemming from his habitual writing needed a different home. The result was four EPs released through 2007 and 2008, each one titled after a different season.
The EPs have gained a strong following in their own right, with fans clamoring for more even as Jon Foreman focused on his responsibilities to Switchfoot and his folk rock side project Fiction Family. Seven years later, 2015 finally saw more of Jon’s solo material coming to light in The Wonderlands, a project encompassing songs written over the course of the past decade. The 24 songs were released as four new EPs, the first of which is Sunlight.
Foreman aficionados will likely notice right away that the production is a little more invasive on this project than on the prior four EPs, although that never detracts from the thoughtful writing. “You Don’t Know How Beautiful You Are” is a soaring pop track that manages to stay vulnerable beneath its slick veneer. The song was featured as part of the To Write Love On Her Arms movie soundtrack, which is fitting given both Jon’s long-term support of the organization and the tender lyrics: “Come surrender your hidden scars / Leave your weapons where they are. / You’ve been hiding, but I know your wounded heart / and you don’t know how beautiful you are.”
Although there’s a certain element of whimsy (see “Caroline”) that suggests, along with the title, that these songs may be some of the less introspective selections of The Wonderlands series, they are by no means spiritual lightweights. Both “The Mountain” and “Patron Saint of Rock and Roll” explore elements of what true faith looks like in a culture of cynicism and blind hypocrisy (found both outside and inside of our own spirits). Although “Patron Saint of Rock and Roll” in particular employs a tongue-in-cheek cleverness in its tone, the lyrics have an underlying bite.
The two tunes that play most like Jon Foreman classics bookend the collection. “Terminal” starts the album with reflections on mortality, employing a chord structure that subverts expectation and with just enough production to make the track come off slightly otherworldly. The lyrics draw on imagery from Job to explore our own transience, cautionary as Jon breathes “don’t let your spirit die before your body does / we’re terminal.”
Album closer “All of God’s Children” is a listener favorite which Jon has been playing at aftershows since 2010. This track’s organic sound is smoothed just enough with the sound of cool piano beds and subtle strings to draw it in line sonically with the rest of this collection, although Jon’s raw vocals and acoustic guitar remain relatively untouched. The song spotlights redemption in a shadowy world, providing what could conceivably be a thesis statement for much of his work past and present: “I’ve been waiting for love to give birth, for new life to show pain its worth.”
Jon Foreman has become, in many ways, the unintentional voice of a generation– the voice for the disillusioned, spiritually disenfranchised kids coming of age in the 21st century, desperate for a faith that can be experienced beyond the smoke-and-mirrors pseudo-piety of surface level Christianity. The Sunlight EP is a radiant example of why he holds that role, with reflections on faith that are accessible without ever taking the easy way out, lyrics that are in equal measure honest and hopeful and a musical style marrying his acoustic tones with contemporary production conventions. The first installment of The Wonderlands is a strong start for a promising EP arc.