Coming Home: ‘Native Tongue’ by Switchfoot

Certain bands, certain songs, have the ability to capture something transcendent: a spiritual language that takes listeners past themselves into something shared, something that anchors us in the eternal. Few bands possess the ability to invite listeners into that place quite like Switchfoot.

Their history includes offering us sing along hits like “Meant to Live,” “Dare You to Move,” and more recently “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” and “Live it Well.” With ten albums and two decades of musical and philanthropic work behind them, 2018 saw Switchfoot pressing pause. They stepped away from the relentless pace of the road, digging deep into the roots of why they’re doing what they do. With Native Tongue, they have emerged reborn.

We’ve seen something similar once before in Switchfoot’s discography. After Hello Hurricane was essentially a deconstruction of what it meant to be Switchfoot, Vice Verses came back swinging. 2018’s year on pause has seemed to serve as a similar reevaluation for the five band members, with Native Tongue carrying the same kind of punchy assertiveness that marked Vice Verses.

But make no mistake: the songs on this album are not repeating anything Switchfoot has sung before. Listeners might have suspected that would be the case following the release of the thundering anthem “Native Tongue.” Beyond simply setting the bar for the kind of energy you’ll feel throughout the album, it also lays out the thesis statement: “love’s the language, love is your native tongue.”

The heavy emphasis on Chad Butler’s percussion and Tim Foreman’s bass on both the title track and other pre-released cuts like “Voices” once again remind a little of Vice Verses, but that only scratches the surface of what this album has to offer. “All I Need” is a poppy, sunny ride through finger snaps and a whimsical melody declaring dependence on love as a sustaining force. Smooth “The Strength to Let Go” soars through the joy of soul-deep surrender to a compassionate Maker. “Oxygen” is wistful and aching as it leans on slide guitar as well as acoustic to paint a scene of distance in a relationship, seeking resolution.

With fourteen tracks, Switchfoot had a lot of ground to explore on Native Tongue— and more than just territory to stake down, this space feel like a musical playground. Every member of the band is firmly rooted in exceptional skill, and through the course of this album each musician gets space to express their unique craftsmanship. “Take My Fire” is an absolute celebration of the guitar tone mastery offered by Drew Shirley, providing a delightful dose of riffs for those who enjoy a straightforward rock-and-roll tune. Jerome Fontamillas’ keyboard and programming expertise is formidable on “The Hardest Art,” which manages to be both a departure from standard Switchfoot sound and also one of the strongest tracks on the album. Featuring ethereal guest vocals from Kaela Sinclair, the song summarizes the core tension of Switchfoot’s entire body of work:

Maybe I’m the only one
But it feels like love is the hardest art to learn…
Love is surrender.”

As mentioned earlier, the refrain of “Native Tongue” truly is the root system this album grows from. But that theme of love as our truest self is approached in part through knowing what it is to be detached from that way of being. “Prodigal Soul” wanders through a raw, folk-leaning sonicscape as Jon Foreman poignantly confesses “I’m a prodigal soul, and I want to come home.

That longing to be at home, settled into the rhythms of a love lived and expressed, will be what pierces to the core of listeners. We are invited to participate in that longing– a longing each of us likely already knows well. “Joy Invincible” feels like a tune wrestled from the heart of any one of us in moments of tragedy and shock, fighting to be rooted in that limitless love: “Hallelujah nevertheless was the song the pain couldn’t destroy. Hallelujah nevertheless, you’re my joy invincible.”

Musically, Native Tongue is easily the most diverse album Switchfoot has ever released. From funky spiritual “Dig New Streams” to earnest rocker “Let it Happen” to closing tender love song “You’re The One I Want,” there is a delightful fearlessness in the range of sounds.

But the defining momentum of this era of Switchfoot is a magnetic draw towards divine love. This unbreakable thread has always sewn together the whole of the band’s discography, but the careful process of sifting through distractions in pursuit of foundational truth has distilled it in its purest form yet.

The joy saturating Native Tongue feels like an act of resistance. The call to participate in and come home to a love that outlasts our self-distraction and regrets will reverberate long beyond the album’s end.

Find Native Tongue on Spotify and iTunes.

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