By Richard Provost
Foreign Figures is at it again. Provo’s resident radio friendly pop/rock group is releasing a new, full-length album this Friday – April 1st. These guys are workhorses, and they can attribute much of their growing success to a lot of consistent hard work over a long period of time. We were impressed with their debut EP (see what we thought of it here), so you could imagine our excitement when we received an advance copy of the new album from the band.
If you are at all familiar with Foreign Figures’ music, you will recognize their signature sound on Paradigm. Right down to the album’s gapless playback, this album features the hallmarks of the Foreign Figures experience. It definitely stays true to the sound of the first EP, but not in a way that makes it irrelevant. You can hear how the band has grown from their debut up until now.
Undoubtedly, they are much more mature songwriters and have better arrangements. Their first EP felt a little stiff – a common issue with many debuts. Bands go into the studio for the first time, green and eager, but afraid of screwing up and making a mess of it all. They end up getting so focused on not making mistakes that they don’t focus on creating what it is that they want to create. They focus on hitting the right notes and getting the right tone, but they don’t focus on really emoting and performing in the studio like they would in a live setting. The result is often a lifeless recording that is far from the original vision. I know from experience. As a musician, I have made that album.
Fortunately, this new album does not have this issue. This LP just feels better. Much more lively. Much more confident. Foreign Figures is in the driver’s seat, and they know where they’re headed and how to get there.
Their track, “Seasons,” best exemplifies this growth. It shows patient songwriting. They don’t get to the big Foreign Figures chorus you have come to expect until the very end of the song. Foreign Figures now understands that often the anticipation of the moment they are building up to is just as good as the moment itself. The second verse comes out of the chorus much more verbose and rhythmic than the first. It then follows with a brilliant use of dynamics from 1:47-1:51. A light swell is followed immediately by a two beat rest for every instrument other than lead vocals and drums. Very smart arrangement.
“Force of Nature” opens with some effected toms from drummer Steve Michels. It immediately grabs attention before introducing a slick, shimmery guitar line. The percussion highlights in this song are interesting and engaging. The chorus is catchy, and the song has a laid back groove that will linger with you for days. Little production touches like the guitar slide at 1:56 and the ambience from 1:58 to 2:15 are very cool. Random church bells, synth squeals and groans, isolated guitar – they all contribute to a satisfying build before the final chorus. No wonder this song was chosen as one of the lead singles for the album.
“Lionheart” is another good example of their growth as songwriters. Musically, this is probably their most dramatic song on the album and the most overtly emotional. The use of piano and strings swelling in the background will immediately incite an emotional reaction from the listener. By the time the drums come in with their tom work at 2:08, you are ready to join lead singer Eric Michels in the emotional battle he is going through.
Now for a word of critique. I really enjoyed “Lionheart,” so I listened to it quite a bit. But the more I listened to it, the less I enjoyed it. I didn’t enjoy it any less because of the arrangement; I picked up on more subtle things in the music, and honestly, musically, it is pretty great. But I found that the more emotionally invested I became in the song, the more I cared to find out what Michels was singing about. The way this song is performed, it is obvious that it means a lot to Foreign Figures, and for that reason I wanted it to mean a lot to me. Upon closer examination, I found that lyrically the song was lacking.
As I listened to the lyrics, I started to feel like it was a trick word problem in math class, asking for a solution but never providing the necessary information to solve it. Maybe the lyrics are just going over my head and my simple mind isn’t able to grasp what is happening. I won’t pretend like that’s outside the realm of possibility. However, to me the lyrics seemed like some imagery with no story, no statement of current emotional state, no hint at who is speaking or who is being spoken to, and no context to derive any of this information from. I may sound harsh, but I am harsh because this is what is stopping this song from being incredible to me, and it’s a song on the album that I loved.
Put simply: it’s not enough for something to mean something to the artist. That meaning needs to be portrayed in such a way that it means something to the listener, too. Music is about communication and expression, and neither of those are worth anything unless the listener receives it and understands it.
Those who aren’t big into lyrical analysis and love pop music will probably find no issue here. The thing with Foreign Figures is that they pretty much write nothing but pop radio hits. Their music will find a nook in your brain and make a home for itself there. You will catch yourself singing their hooks. They simply never write songs that sound bad. Their music can absolutely be on the radio nationwide today. It is catchy. They are great musicians, and they are fun songs. It’s just good stuff.
I love seeing the growth in this young band. Foreign Figures has set the bar high, and it makes me happy to see that they are not getting complacent. They have gotten really close to perfecting their pop sound. Selfishly, I would love to see them push their boundaries a little more, and take some more risks musically – get a little more experimental with their pop formula and try to be more direct lyrically. Whatever they choose to do, they have a solid fan base that will support them, and the work ethic to necessary to become successful. Looking forward to more Foreign Figures in the future.
Make sure to like Foreign Figures on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter (@4infigures) and Instagram (@foreignfiguresofficial). The Paradigm album release concert is this Friday, April 1st, at 7:30PM. It will take place in an aircraft hanger owned by the UVU Flight School, located at 1185 Mike Jense Parkway in Provo. Tickets are available online here. You can listen to foreign figures on Spotify here: