Review: Switchfoot’s ‘Fading West’

In the grand scheme of the music industry, no matter what the genre, most artists are mere flashes in the pan, coming and going without making a significant impact on their field. But the exceptions are the ones worth celebrating, and Switchfoot more than fits this description. Coming up on 18 years as a band, the Foreman brothers and their friends chose to commemorate their story with “Fading West,” a documentary and accompanying soundtrack that only a seasoned band like Switchfoot could produce with humble prestige.

Clearly, there is a rich history of music and memories that Switchfoot could have chosen to cover in their documentary. Interestingly, however, the band instead takes a snapshot of their status as a veteran troupe still writing their story. Released in the fall of 2013, “Fading West” follows Switchfoot on a world tour, featuring stops in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Indonesia, ending with the band’s hometown of San Diego.

Switchfoot could very well have played this concept straight, focusing only on the sights, sounds and high points of the touring life. Instead, viewers get an intimate take on Switchfoot as bandmates and brothers, witnessing both the joys and pains that come with life on the road, including leaving family behind for months at a time.

One particularly compelling moment includes vocalist Jon Foreman’s difficult decision to temporarily leave the tour and tend to his daughter in the wake of her emergency surgery. Moments like these connect the audience with not just the band’s identity but with the band’s individual members and their struggles.

This is not to say that the documentary is exclusively solemn; however, the band’s passions of life are certainly at the forefront of the story. Documentaries of this type often capture bandmate drama and other potentially awkward and bitter moments, but because the members of Switchfoot have grown in their love and respect for one another over the years, this film gracefully sidesteps these sorts of themes.

It is rather the opposite, as Switchfoot’s congeniality for their fans and friends is showcased alongside their musical excellence. Interview clips from members of bands such as Blink-182, Goo Goo Dolls and Foo Fighters serve to document the respect Switchfoot garners from other musicians in their genre.

Additionally, one notable subject of the film is surfing, as it consumes a notable chunk of the running time with plenty of impressive footage on the waves. Surfing enthusiasts may enjoy the prominent appearances of professionals Tom Curren and Rob Machado, but the uninitiated others may not be as appreciative.

As a whole, though, impressive cinematography, sound mixing and other technical aspects of “Fading West” are a cut above other films of its type, and they complete the project to make a provoking motion picture through and through.
What makes a project like “Fading West” so respectable is that it insists on being a self-sustaining piece of work. Instead of relying on the band’s vast catalog for background music (which would not have been difficult to do), Switchfoot recorded an entire original soundtrack for the film.

Once again, Switchfoot treads new waters, and, to the album’s benefit, the individual tracks of the record shine within and without the film, although the film is only complemented by these new songs. Tracks like “Who We Are” and “Say It Like You Mean It” are the best iterations of the “Switchfoot sound” with dirty guitar riffs. Choirs make heavy appearances on “When We Come Alive” and “The World You Want,” and the band expertly incorporates acoustic guitars on “Saltwater Heart” and “Slipping Away.”
Perhaps the most outstanding highlight of the album is “BA55,” a drawn-out, bass-heavy and atmospheric track that lives up to its ambitious title. Lines like “I believe you’re the fire that could burn me clean” demonstrate how the band can still pen creative lines that speak beyond the song itself. That being said, the album does play more like a soundtrack than a studio album as the consistent instrumental ambience and Jon Foreman’s digitized and downplayed vocals keep the album less expansive than Switchfoot’s previous work.

The musical highs and lows are not quite as pronounced as projects like “Vice Verses,” “Hello Hurricane” or even old favorites like “Nothing is Sound” or “The Beautiful Letdown,” and the result is a slightly less memorable experience overall. Still, any Switchfoot project is notable in and of itself, and it is nothing but a satisfying listen from start to finish.
“Fading West” is a “salt and pepper” project as the film and its soundtrack are best enjoyed together, connecting the soundtrack to the greater story at play. After the closing notes of “Back to the Beginning Again” fade out, listeners will reflect on the long and illustrious journey that Switchfoot has taken in their career, and listeners will want to align their story with the band’s.

After 18 years as a band, Switchfoot maintains a deep love for music, their fans and, most clearly, each other. Inviting fans to experience a chapter of their lives, Switchfoot more than delivers with “Fading West,” and it is essential viewing and listening for any Switchfoot fan.

Roger Gelwicks is a senior technical and professional communication major and an arts & entertainment writer for Cedars. He believes that honey badgers are vastly overrated and that a Komodo dragon could take one on any day.

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