Jon Foreman has demonstrated over the past year or so that he can be quite prolific between Switchfoot projects. Releasing four season-themed EPs in 2008 helped keep his name in the minds and ears of music aficionados, and now he has teamed up with Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins on a side project called Fiction Family. The results are, well, rather interesting.
With the exception of the album’s first single, “When She’s Near,” their self-titled debut sounds nothing like the rock ‘n’ roll of Switchfoot, but rather has some similarities with Foreman’s solo work and Watkins’ work with Nickel Creek. The folksy Americana stylings are evident throughout with everything from acoustic guitars to harmonicas playing their part in creating these musical sojourns. Between the two of them, Fiction Family play at least ten instruments on this record, so a variety of sounds is everywhere.
The duo explores a number of relationship stories on this album. “When She’s Near” is a happy-go-lucky tune about how love makes the world look a lot brighter and more clear than it would otherwise, while the aptly-titled “Betrayal” is a story told from the perspective of the one part of the love triangle who loses out in the end in the worst way imaginable. “Not Sure” is one of those songs about not knowing if you can get over someone while bearing the additional weight of not knowing if you even want to.
“Out of Order” is one of the album’s most interesting songs. The quick-yet-off-balance speed of the song matches the lyrics and their unstable state. When Watkins sings that “Now what is normal used to seem so strange,” you can see how the growth process or evolution of a person’s life can be both a great and curious thing. Add to this the repeated refrain of “I’ve been lonely too long” and the effects of time passing are made even clearer when there’s no one to enjoy the journey with you.
Most of the time it is either Watkins or Foreman singing on a song, but rarely do the two of them sing together. The songs where Watkins sings are the more commercial-sounding of the lot with his clear and steady voice leading the way; but Foreman’s vocals wander in myriad directions on his songs, sounding raspy and melancholy one second and like an exuberant Kermit the Frog the next. But when they come together on songs, as on the sweeping “Closer Than You Think,” they work well together.
Generally-speaking Fiction Family is a pleasant album. There are some maudlin moments on the album (their cover of Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw it Away”), and considering the stripped down nature of the rest of the record the few instances where there are extended outros of random noises will likely make you hit the fast forward button, but there are some good moments here.
This album won’t really blow your mind, but at least it will give you a host of instruments and arrangements to enjoy.