Review Summary: Flobots make a triumphant return, delivering a beautiful, thought evoking hour of soulful hip hop.
Flobots are a 3 piece hip hop group from Denver, Colorado. You may not be familiar with their name, but if you weren't living under a rock in 2007, you definitely know at least one of their songs. The ubiquitous 'Handlebars' was a massive track throughout the mid to late 2000s and I would wager that if you went back to it now you would recognize it the second the hook came in, and probably get a bit nostalgic too. I'll be honest, Flobots are undoubtedly one of my favourite bands of all time, I've been a fan for over a decade, I feel they don't get the attention they deserve, and I am most likely exceptionally biased, but I'll do my best to rate this album objectively.
One thing to take note of is that Flobots have and likely always will be heavily political, and whilst that's something that really sells them for me, I would like to keep this free of politics, as we're all well aware what kind of discussion that can breed.
It's very apparent that this album is a departure from the bands previous approach to writing instrumentals. On previous releases Flobots tracks featured a full band, with guitars, drums, a viola and on their early work, a trumpet. Whilst the bones of this formula are present, as well as the viola, the instrumentals here are more conventionally hip hop. There are still plenty of real instruments being played, giving the record a very organic sound, but its a definite shift from their previous releases. This album is noticeably darker in tone overall than their previous works. The music is far less high energy, and often very low key and mellow, with the exception of tracks like 'Carousel' and 'Dancing in the Light of a Burning City'. With that being said, I adore the instrumentals on this, the bass is perfectly mixed, the drums are subtle and spacious which creates a massive impact on the mood, and the viola work of Mackenzie Gault alongside a string quartet is incredibly evocative and does so much for these tracks whilst remaining a beautifully nuanced addition. Possibly my favourite moment instrumentally on here is the jazzy and oh so smooth saxophone solo during 'American Dreams', with special mention to the bass line in 'Voices of the Dead'.
Flobots have always produced some of the best lyrics in hip hop in my opinion. The group features two emcees, Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit, who are just geniuses in their own right. Whilst I find they shine more on the bands past releases, the lyrics here are still very strong, and compliment the more serious tone of the album. This record as always is very topical, and in such a tense political climate, Flobots are in their element. This album covers all bases, it's insightful, angry, passionate, unrelenting, hopeful, at times witty, and always on the nose. Something particularly special about this record is the use of Sacred Harp style group singing, particularly present in Pray which features a reimagined sampling of 'Antioch'. There are some fantastic flows throughout, probably some of the strongest the pair have ever recorded, typically delivered in powerful and emotional cadence.
What I find so charming about Flobots is that they're not celebrities or rockstars, they're normal people with a passion and a message, and I personally have a lot of time for that. The band are consistently impressive, and as a long time fan, I find this album a great stride forward, and well worth the wait between releases. For all it's shifts and turns from the band's past material, this is a fantastically uplifting and contemplative hour of hip hop. If you're passionate about political and contemporary matters, this record will resonate with you. I strongly recommend listening to their previous releases if you like this too, this band are a diamond in the rough. Despite their one off dash of commercial success, they are by no means a one hit wonder group. Listen to this record, support this band.