Review Summary: With the politics world reversed since their last album, Flobots find new ground emphasizing their melody over all else.
So I'm a pretty big user of Sputnik. I might not post as much as some other people, but I check this site almost like an acne-laden teenager checks his Facebook account. It's always so interesting to see how others feel about albums that I own, and to see if my opinion matches up with theirs. Maybe minor differences at times, my views have never been too far off the mark. And then, ladies and gentlemen, Survival Story was released.
"What could be so terrible about this album?", I wondered. Flobots had a fairly solid album with Fight With Tools, an inventive but certainly not flawless record that foreshadowed the band's potential. So in the midst of a Coheed and Cambria and This Town Needs Guns musical phase, I decided to step into the battlefront here to see what the commotion was all about, and I purchased the new album (last night, actually). The album has been played quite a few times since then, and this review is being written while noting that the songs will continue to grow on me as time passes.
So... What's the verdict, you ask? To be completely honest, it's the type of album I mostly expected to hear, at least before the tidal pools of negativity festered onto Sputnik. Flobots have an album that perfectly exemplifies their sound, whilst introducing new elements to the mix that fans of the band haven't heard until now.
Before we begin, let's identify one major thing that has obviously changed the band's music, and its lyrics. Barack Obama was elected president between this album and the last, and it's clear that Flobots feel a lot less urgency to politically unify their listeners. I believe this is a good thing; Fight With Tools proved to be a bit much in that department, and here we have the opposite, with songs mentioning the concept of love ("Infatuation", not surprisingly titled) and the roots of the bandmembers, with Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit craftily telling us that they are the sum of their experiences in "If I". Politics are brought up some, of course, but it's more subdued and easier to digest. It's a new, laid-back feel for the band, and it's a pretty nice thing to hear.
All of the musicians are at the top of their game, for the most part. Jonny 5 once again delivers the raps in a fun way, a way that reminds us that hip-hop isn't quite dead yet. Many of the lyrics are thought-provoking, especially in "Defending Atlantis", an allegory/narrative on the ancient city. "And from the barren wastelands of naked trash,/ We stitched together a shelter from fallen nations' flags/ and chose to build a future from an ancient past." However, there's the occasional off lyric or cheesy line that makes one slightly cringe. For instance, the intro to "The Effect" is a tad stupid, ("It's the F.L.O.B.O.T.S.; what did you expect?" It looks better on paper) But soon, the main hook of the song comes and the song's small problem is counteracted strongly. Brer Rabbit also raps some; however, he ventures into singing territory quite strongly on Survival Story, perhaps a bit too strongly. It isn't the best singing I've ever heard, and can tend to make the choruses of songs almost a bit tacky. (I'm still hoping that "Panacea For The Poison" grows on me a bit more...)
However, all of these things are outweighed by the impressive musicianship evident throughout the album. The musical styles of Fight With Tools are expounded upon, with Flobots reaching types of music that are new terrain for them. "Defending Atlantis" has a chill, on-the-verge-of-reggae feel, and "Airplane Mode" is a dreary and dreamy song that actually makes you feel like you're on an airplane, gazing out at the clouds. The violin is strongly emphasized in the song, too, as well as most of the other songs; the instrument is used in many different ways than it was used on the previous album, which is nice to hear. The drummer is at the top of his game, not with any "The Rhythm Method"-esque efforts but rather with beats that supplement the songs perfectly.
Survival Story is an enjoyable album, and old-school fans of Flobots will definitely find reasons to be hooked to it for a long time. However, the bottom line is that you just need to listen to this album yourself. Whether this album has a 2.2 on Sputnik or a 4.9, well, in the end it only matters what you think. Fans of Fight With Tools are bound to enjoy this album anyways! Listen to the previews online if you need, and if it's something that you think you would be interested in, then by all means pursue it.
White Flag Warrior