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Now if you've never heard of Flobots, or just know them as that band that released that handlebars song, let me give you some background. The band has 2 rappers, a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist and a violist. They aren't your average every day hip-hop band. They bring some creativity and left wing political lyrics to the table instead of sounding generic and boring.
"There is a War Going On For Your Mind" is a nice little intro track, summing up some points that will later be addressed in full lyrically on the album before leading into the epic track "Mayday!!!" which shows the band at their best and sums up everything that they do. It provides a political commentary with some amazing music behind it. The lyrics are rather blunt and powerful, kind've reminiscent of The King Blues' lyrics, who they shared a split 7" inch with, featuring Flobots' "Mayday!!!" and The King Blues' "Let's Hang the Landlord."
"Same Thing" is also very blunt, with rappers Brer Rabbit and Jonny 5 providing a list of changes they want to see half way through. It has some very catchy vocals provided by the rest of the band. "Stand Up" starts with almost "country" style viola and throughout the song the focus remains mostly on Jonny 5 and the viola, it makes the lyrics and vocals sound about a million times more powerful than if they were overpowered by distorted guitars for example. Flobots know how to make a powerful song and this is one of them.
"Fight With Tools" is quite possibly the most important song on the album, telling people to fight with their skill, to focus on their talents, instead of aimlessly fighting, etc. Starting with another radio type sound, similar to the opener, it leads into a great chorus eventually and a stunning outro. And then there's "Handlebars." What can I say about this song? If you haven't heard it, you've probably been living under a rock for the last 2-3 years. It starts innocently, the lyrics being about being able to ride your bike with no handlebars, then a list of things that this person can do, starting from when this person was young, then gradually getting more intense, sinister and political, in the end, perhaps showing how selfish and big headed people can be, ending with "I can end the planet in a holocaust" before repeating "I can ride my bike with no handlebars." This song is a true masterpiece and one of the most powerful songs I know.
"Never Had It" is one of the more personal slower songs on the album, one of very few, while "Combat" is more up tempo and dance-y. It's pretty interesting as a lot of the musical background is actually vocals and a pretty epic bass line! The bass (played by Jesse Walker) on this album is actually quite stunning. "The Rhythm Method" once again isn't as serious, but both songs feature some political references.
If you've never heard of "Anne Braden" look at her Wikipedia page. This song is basically a tribute to her life, and her anti racist acts, the song is biographical and features some of her quotes. Once again, one of the most powerful songs on the album. It's a slow song with a dark bass riff and some great female vocals, provided by viola player Mackenzie Gault.
"We Are Winning" is an odd one, it's a great song don't get me wrong. It uses the viola from "Fight With Tools" and the voice of an old lady with some great oxymorons, describing people working together to solve the world's ills. The song seems to stand as an intro to closer "Rise" - the second single from the album. It's a slower songs with a very repetitive chorus, perhaps to enforce the idea that we need to "rise TOGETHER." Well whatever this song does, it certainly works very well, as does the rest of this amazing debut. Such a great, different style they've got, and they need to keep it up.
"Fight With Tools"
Flobots for anyone who don't know are described as a hip hop group from Colorado America. However some of their music ranges from fast rapping to quite slow almost talking through their songs. All of their songs have a very political message as well as it seem in most their main aim is getting their lyrics across rather then thinking about the music they are making, in some ways this makes the songs better, almost rawer than if they had put their all into making the songs sound great.
The first song is only one minute and twenty seconds long. A fine example of the talking in their songs rather than singing or rapping, its got violins behind it and it sounds nice but its not really a song.
This is where the album really come into life, it starts off nicely and then comes in with two voice over crossing each other it sounds quite strange but really nice at the same time, it then speeds up and comes into a faster rapping section, it is a great song all the way through, it uses a lot of violins again and slow drum beats.
Stand up has some of the best lyrics in my opinion, it got a really great opening few versus, I really like how it seems to speed up and at least keep its pace throughout the verse even though its not necessarily getting faster, it could perhaps have another few sections though as it does get a bit samey.
Handlebars is by far the best song off the whole album though, and was one of my favourite songs of 2008 full stop. It has amazing instrument running all the way through and the rapping is brilliant too as well as fantastic lyrics too. It features trumpets as well as violins, many drums and many more instruments I cant even imagine naming. It gets very fast towards the end of the song and every time I listen it just totally moves me.
There's A War Going On For Your Mind
Fight With Tools
Never Had It
The Rhythm Method (Move!)
We Are Winning
This is a truly great lyrical and instrumental album, though it wont be to everyone's tastes, I like a lot of the songs off this album but I can see why others wont but I think most people will really like handlebars as its their fullest song in terms of instruments, lyrics and arrangement.
Fight with Tools
Flobots 2008 (first released 2007)
Flobots are perhaps one of the most exciting bands to have 'broken through' in America in recent years. I say broken through as they seem to have been around for some 8 years yet until last year I had never heard of them and then they released the single 'Handlebars' and I was instantly hooked.
Who are they?
Jonny 5 is the main MC
Brer Rabbit is also an MC and they work together
Mackenzie Roberts plays Viola
Andy Guerrero, Guitar
Jesse Walker, Bass
Joe Ferrone, trumpet player (and some trumpet player I have to say)
Kenny Ortiz, Drummer
This band is overtly political and does a great job of mixing rap with rock, like Linkin Park, but better. You can download this album from iTunes but you do not get the UK bonus track....so I cannot in all honesty comment too much on that track as my purchase was from iTunes.
1. There's a War Going On for Your Mind
Great opener and we see from this short number already that Flobots are clever and very politically aware; they have something to say and want us to listen. I love the background drumming which is militaristic in style in places and the viola in the background, which is almost a Flobots signature, is haunting and appropriate. The rapping is purposeful and clear. 8/10.
More metal orientated in style this track again has some cracking lyrics and the rapping punctuated by some nifty drum work. 7/10.
3. Same Thing
Gotta love the trumpet and funky style to this track, almost a new genre funk/rap. We get more of a vocal singing style breaking out from the rap here and that is cool. 7/10.
4. Stand Up
To me, this is the track of the album, absolutely stunning. The intro is almost Celtic with the viola, then the rap comes in accompanied only by the viola. This is then joined by some sparse drumming, before it all builds, slowly but surely. The lyrics start off by criticising the response in New Orleans to the Levees bursting, goes on to highlight American Foreign Policy. We then get some lyrics related to the American use of fossil fuels, and all of this is punctuated by some nice basslines. The end of this track is quite bizarre with some random (seemingly) exerts of radio stations. Top track, and perhaps one of my favourite tracks, ever, and that is saying something. 10/10.
5. Fight with Tools
More traditional in terms of the rapping and though it is the title track it is a little wanting as it sways (after the initial rap) into rock electronica. Not a bad track at all, just pales in comparison to the last track. 5/10.
Quite rightly a huge hit. I so love the beginning of this track, and if anyone gets the chance to see the video, it is fantastic. The rapping is laconic and clear. The words flow so well into each other it is lyrical genius. The bit where the trumpets join in is sublime. This song builds in a way that is almost perfection, the metal like ending is brilliant. Lyrically this is as good as it gets, these guys hit the nail on the head and I should imagine upset as many Americans as the delight. 9.5/10.
7. Never Had It
We get some female vocals on this track and somehow it doesn't seem right. I am certainly not against female vocals, far from it, but I love the male anti macho style of all the songs so far and this one does not really work for me. 4/10.
Much faster metal rap, not as clear as the other tracks, very rhythmic and interesting though. Reminds me a bit of some bands I heard in the late 80's in the London alternative scene. For difference I'll give it 6/10.
9. The Rhythm Method (Move!)
More difference here, much more old style rock riffs (a la Santana) not sure about this one, okay, not great. 6/10.
10. Anne Braden
Love this, very much a story of an unknown (to me) equal rights activist who was amongst the leading white anti segregationists. I learnt a fair deal from this song, good stuff Flobots, I like the almost menacing tone to the track too. 7/10.
11. We Are Winning
A nice song; rap mixed with (false) news reporting, very much in the same social commentary/politically aware vein as the other songs, but again, different enough, 7/10.
As the title suggests, a call to be more 'noticeable' not to just let the crap that is going on in the World to continue unchallenged, I like this, it touches a chord. 8/10.
13. Iraq (UK bonus track)
I had to listen to this, even though it is not on the iTunes download....so I watched it on Youtube...cracking: Very clever use of rap verses around the letter I, R, A, Q, such as the war It Resuscitates Al Qaeda. 8/10.
This just has to be one of the best albums of last year (I know, originally released in 2007). It could not have come at a more poignant time either. With Obama in office I have started to look at America in a different light, and to know there are bands like this that are overtly critical of previous US policy, and that are talented enough to get the message across to an audience that will appreciate their music as well as the sentiment, well, things can only get better. This one is in it's entirety on my iPod and is likely to stay there.
I am giving this 5 stars, not just because of the music, as clearly, from my review, some tracks do not warrant that, but mainly the 5 stars are for the 'force' of this album and the sheer 'sit up and listen' factor.
'Fight With Tools' is the third LP from US hip-hop outfit the 'Flobots'.
Mixing traditional brass and string instruments with heavily political lyrics, the Colorado based band have created a sound which is comparable to Linkin Park crossed with the Gorillaz.
The thirteen track album opens with 'There's a War Going On For Your Mind', which is a short spoken piece reminiscent of Gil Scott-Heron's 1970's classic 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised'. It sets the political tone for the remainder of the album - which can actually feel a little preachy at times.
Track two, entitled 'Mayday!!!' is a lengthy number featuring heavy use of the violin / viola. It reminds me a little of the sound of N*E*R*D, and mixes a variety of musical genres before reaching its conclusion.
Other songs of note include the title track, 'Fight With Tools', which is probably my favourite of the album. The chorus is excellent and very catchy, featuring some tight lyrics from MC's 'Johnny 5' and 'Brer Rabbit'.
Track six, 'Handlebars' is fairly different in style to the rest of the album - it is in fact the main 'single release' from Fight With Tools - and is probably the most accessible and easy listening track. It's actually quite an anthemic song, although it has been overplayed on the radio recently - the trumpet solo in the middle is however noteworthy and quite excellent.
On the whole, i'm very impressed with Fight With Tools. Lyrically thoughtful, and featuring some excellent beats, the album is definitely worth a listen. The rapping isn't of the same standard as seasoned pro's of the ilk of JayZ, but some infectious choruses mix things up nicely, and keep things interesting. It is actually one of the best albums i've heard for a while, and has an oldskool feel, reminiscent of the work of artists such as Chuck D.
You can purchase Fight With Tools for £6.98 from Amazon.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 There's A War Going On For Your Mind
3 Same Thing
4 Stand Up
5 Fight With Tools
7 Never Had It
9 The Rhythm Method (Move!)
10 Anne Braden
11 We Are Winning