Album Review: Come Alive by Foreign Figures

While musically very impressive, Foreign Figures should improve on their lyrics as they prepare for future releases.

By Mike Romero

Foreign Figures has worked hard to leave their mark on the Provo music scene. The work they’ve put into their music over the last year and a half has been impressive to say the least. They’ve won BYU’s Battle of the Bands, Audio West’s Battle of the Bands, and KSL’s Garage to Glory contest. Working at a furious pace, they’ve released several covers, 3 singles, and two EPs. [1] It seems like every time you turn around these guys are playing a show, and when they do they sound like true professionals. With the release of their latest single, “Force of Nature,” in anticipation of their first full length album, we thought it would be wise to go back and examine Come Alive, their first major release.

For a debut, Foreign Figures does a lot of things right. Interesting percussion parts, inexplicably catchy hooks, and impressive lead vocals from Eric Michels pretty much guarantee that you will find yourself singing something from this EP even hours after listening.

The Come Alive EP kicks off with the head-bobbing, ethereal pop track “Legends.” This song is a nice mid tempo number that rides on a relaxed groove and showcases Eric Michel’s superb vocals quite nicely. There are a couple special moments like the vocal run at 3:18 and the note sung at 3:30. Foreign Figures keeps the song fresh by adding nice little additions throughout, like the guitar riff at 1:52 or when they bring the piano to the forefront during the bridge.

Right before the final chorus there’s a nice use of sonic space. They build the bridge up to what you think will be a huge drop before the final chorus. Though the moment you anticipate does come, it doesn’t come when you think it will. First they feed you nothing but three beats of synthetic wind and wind chimes before Michels leads into the drop with a vocal pickup. Juxtaposed with the functional silence, the chorus seems much louder. Foreign Figures uses this same technique throughout the EP, and it allows for some satisfyingly huge moments.

With Steve Michels playing 16th notes on the high hat, “Morning Light” is much more driven, but sticks to a similar structure as “Legends.” The bass really holds this song together, especially in the second verse when the pretty, reverb filled guitar part found in the first verse is simplified. The bass part not only makes me want to move, but helps the song build momentum. At 2:19 this song shifts to a dubstep-fueled bridge before an effective down chorus. Though the dubstep drop is great, I wish it would have come later in the song. The EDM elements are gone by the end of the bridge, and are sorely missed in the last chorus which is essentially the same as the other two we’ve heard so far. Adding back in some more of that synth bass on the bottom end with the guitar line over the top would have made the final chorus rich, full, and epic. But alas, it doesn’t quite get to where it needs to be. The song peaks early as far as dynamics and intensity are concerned. On a more positive note, whoever sang the higher backing harmony at 3:08 was right on the money. The vocals were delivered in a passionate, angsty way that leant a sense of urgency to the lead vocals.

By the third track of the EP you’ve grown to expect huge choruses like those found in the first two tracks, and “Drive” seems to be headed in that direction. Instead it builds into something much more subtle in its delivery. It’s a nice surprise to hear Foreign Figures get sensitive instead of anthemic. This track is similar in style to the songs found on One Republic’s debut, Dreaming Out Loud. “Drive” transitions beautifully into “Reality” by introducing a simple beat on 2 and 4 that continues throughout the song, albeit much lower in the mix once things get going.

“Reality” definitely isn’t the most radio friendly, but it is, far and away, my favorite song on the EP. It’s the kind of track that makes me excited to see how Foreign Figures develops in their next album. I’m not sure if the content just meant more to the band, but the emotion captured in this track is a big part of what I feel is missing in the others. It is a constant crescendo that smoothly and brilliantly transitions from section to section (check out what they do at 2:04). The listener knows where it is going to go, but not getting there right away makes it more enjoyable. It doesn’t reach its peak until right when it should. At 3:10 there is a magical moment brought on by a drum fill that is reminiscent of drummer Steve Jordan’s work in John Mayer Trio’s performance of “Bold As Love.”

“Sounds Like Gold” is a hit. If we turned on a machine that did nothing but formulaically make #1 pop hits, eventually it would make “Sounds Like Gold.” I’m writing this in mid winter, but this song makes me wish it was summer so I can blast it with my windows down while taking a drive through the canyon. The chorus to this song will burrow its way into your brain like the parasite you never knew you wanted. It is seriously catchy, and is made interesting by some cool vocal rhythms. My only dig on this song is the bridge. It kills the momentum that has been building, and though it does a great job of building it back up, it just isn’t interesting enough to warrant that loss to begin with. I would have preferred some sort of short solo or musical break to provide the change of pace they were going for. It could have maintained the energy and built back into the chorus.

“Come Alive” is another great pop song, but after “Sounds like Gold” it seems to fall a little short. I would have preferred this song earlier in the EP. This track is solid, even in the cross-track transition, which is a cool play on the sound of exploding fireworks. This sets the stage and conjures up images of Provo’s crowded streets on Independence Day. Imagining the July warmth on your skin is easy while listening to the title track. If nothing else, this song provides us with a great bridge, starting at 2:43 that builds to a climax with Eric belting a Prince-like note that is higher than a bassist like me could ever dream of singing. Fantastic!

The EP is full of polished, radio-ready pop songs. While they are catchy and fun musically, there was this strange feeling underneath the whole EP. For some reason, despite liking what I was hearing, I was struggling to connect to it emotionally. After trying to figure out why that was for a long time, I finally figured it out.

It’s the lyrics.

Lyrically, Foreign Figures really struggles. I’m just going to dive into “Legends” for a second. Once you get the picture, you’ll be able to recognize the issue on the other tracks as as well. While the opener was great musically, the lyrics come up lacking. A lot of the rhymes are pretty forced, and the chorus itself gets a little perplexing because of this. Here are the words:

I will climb to the edge and through.
Whatever it takes to get through the view.
Passing by; flying time.
Holding back; keeping shy.
I’m not sure what to do,
But legends do.

The last couplet is the most troublesome because it is the defining line of the song. It should be the most meaningful, but instead it doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s so close to making sense but falls short. Here’s why.

What Michels is trying to get across is this: “I’m not sure what to do, but legends are sure what to do.” Instead, the way the last couplet is written, it reads this way: “I’m not sure what to do, but legends do sure what to do.” In English, that straight up doesn’t work.

A very similar thought could be written this way: “I don’t know what to do, but legends do know what to do.” This thought could be simplified in this way: “I don’t know what to do, but legends do.” Unfortunately, Foreign Figures mixed the two phrases and it makes for one big, grammar-induced headache.

Of course, they could also be trying to say something along the lines of, “I’m not sure what to do, but Legends just act – even when they are unsure.” You know, kind of like a whole Nike “Just do it” sort of thing. But the fact that the last couplet is confusing and unclear on so many levels demonstrates that there is a serious problem with the writing.

The band also makes a very strange choice to use the preposition through in the first line. Why is this strange? Because typically people climb over an edge. Not through an edge. The second line is kind of strange as well. You can’t get through a view, because unless things get completely dark or you go blind, a line of sight (i.e. a view) remains constant. There will always be something to view, even if you reach or move through the thing you were once viewing. Maybe that’s the point of the lyric – that the speaker wants to constantly move forward? I dunno.

Anyway, you get the idea. There are many lyrical problems like this throughout the entirety of the EP. If Foreign Figures really wants to craft enduring songs that match the quality of the music they’re writing, they definitely need to work on clarifying their lyrics. Otherwise, their music will remain sonically impressive but devoid of logic and genuine emotional response.

All in all, this album kind of feels like a date with a beautiful girl that is somewhat reluctant to be there. Sure, it’s great that you took her out, and you even enjoyed it, but after the fact you feel a little let down because you know it could have been incredible had she felt it. This album is beautifully executed by great musicians. As a listener you are taken aback by the production, the guitar riffs, and the power and awesomeness of the lead vocals. However, it doesn’t move you, and, outside of “Reality,” there is very little emotional response due to some glaring lyrical issues. Despite this, I’m still looking forward to that second date – hoping for a genuine emotional connection in future Foreign Figures releases.

Make sure to like Foreign Figures on Facebook. You can find the Come Alive EP on Spotify here, and listen to “Sounds Like Gold” below.

[1] Their Ocean Tide EP is still available on Bandcamp. Listen while you can – it’s one of the few places it’s still up.
[2] “Utah Music Awards – 2015 Utah Music Award Winners.” Utah Music Awards. Utah Music Awards, 13 Sept. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.

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