Every era has seen the chocolate/peanut butter combination of music and activism mixed together to create the tasty sensation of protest music. Long derided as "hippie shit" by those too lazy to listen, the protest song has been a ubiquitous form spanning the last century. Okay, maybe not the eighties, but every other decade has more than had its share. From the earliest notes of Florence Reece's "Which Side are You On?" through Billie Holliday's "Strange Fruit" and on through the careers of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Dead Kennedys, The Coup, Midnight Oil and Public Enemy - all artists who have transcended the whining-as-protest music and offered solutions to the problem at hand.
We may now add to this most esteemed list of artists, Flobots a hip-hop group from Denver, Colorado using awareness-as-action as opposed to the more common awareness-as-apathy preachings of the modern day "artist." Fight With Tools, the band's first full-length release is a call to arms of such oratorical aplomb, that even the most jaded of listeners are sure to be swayed.
Beginning with a lone, distant viola, "There's a War Going on for Your Mind" has Brer Rabbit (one of two emcees, the other being Jonny 5) setting the stage for a forty-five-minute coup d'état that attempts to do the impossible: to educate without sermonizing. There can often be nothing more boring than an artist who wears their pseudo-politics on their sleeves like so many corporate sponsored badges of dishonor. The Flobots' earnestness manages to rise above all the claptrap and palaver without alienating the average sir or madam.
When reading the lyrics, it can all be a bit overwhelming a seemingly stream-of-consciousness prose that can only be truly understood with rhythms and beats. But after you hear the album, go back and read the lyrics again, and I think you'll find them easy to decipher. The production is crisp and clean with virtually every note accented. The arrangements of the songs are sparse which could be considered a detriment to a lesser band, but here provide the perfect vessel without managing to clutter the delivery of the message.
This all sounds very serious, doesn't it? Scary, even. Don't be a baby. Music can have a message, and still be damn enjoyable. I defy you. DEFY you to listen to "Handlebars" and not get it stuck in your head for days, weeks, even. You know where to reach me. I'm taking bets now, you punks. You'll likely have the same problem with "Anne Braden," a much needed history lesson of one of the few white, 1960's female civil rights leaders with, in addition to an ultra-catchy refrain manages to remind us that even after almost 50 years, it's pretty much the same shit, different decade.
As mentioned before, yes there is viola on this album, a viola is played throughout this album, in fact. Not the typical instrument of the genre, as we all know, but thankfully the band uses the instrument not as a gimmick but a sincere accoutrement. Violist Mackenzie Roberts is a very skilled player and, as it turns out a very skilled vocalist as shown on "Never Had It," a song sure to become a popular request at future shows. Providing a rock-solid backbeat for Flobots is Kenny Ortiz, a metronome of a man who adds all the punctuation for the band's poli-psy essay, which is especially evident on the album's title track.
There was a time, (as there's sure to be again, as it tends to be cyclical) that no one will give a shit about politicized socially conscious lyrics, but now just doesn't seem to be that time. Enjoy music with intelligence while you can, folks complacency's all too common in this world. Lazy writing of both lyrics and music is never ending and the law of supply and demand
demands it. For Pete's sake demand otherwise while we still have the choice to do so.