“A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.” – A. Philip Randolph
“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” - Gil Scott-Heron
A strong foundation was laid with Flobots’ debut album Fight With Tools, and continued on with sophomore effort Survival Story. Perhaps not coincidentally, the band’s third album, The Circle In The Square finds the band coming full circle with themselves and their message.
While they remain proud daughter and sons of Denver, Colorado the band appears to be no longer content to be hometown heroes and have their sights set on nothing less than world domination. But make no mistake – this is not about hubris. It’s about being ready and willing to shoulder that burden. Flobots look to the future knowing that there’s a whole lot of baggage associated with history that keep us from moving forward in any significant way.
The album opens with some free verse in the form of “Flokovsky” leading into the title track and lead-off single. While sure to get the kids’ toes a’ tappin’, the song “The Circle in the Square” is not entirely indicative of the rest of the album. While it’s sure to be a highlight of the band’s live set (as evidenced in recent shows), it’s proof positive that the band has moved far beyond the shackles/blessings of “Handlebars”. This isn’t meant to criticize the popularity of the once ubiquitous song, far from it. Flobots are a band that deserves to be heard by any means necessary and by as many people possible, whatever the catalyst or however the introduction. While there’s always been an earnestness to the band that can convert even the hardest cynic, it’s coupled with an uncharted empathy to everything that they do. Their lyrics, their live shows or their community work in conjunction with Flobots.org sets them apart from the slack-tivists of their ilk. In short, they never hesitate to put their music where their mouths are. In a perfect world, Flobots’ longevity and self-worth will ultimately be proven not in the singles, but in deeper tracks like “Loneliness” and “#OccupyEarth”, both album highlights. For the latter tune, the band takes the #catchphrase far beyond even the movement itself, proposing a global solution to the 99%.
The Circle in the Square is more of a creeper than the previous two albums. It may not hit you as as hard right out of the gate, but stick with it and you’ll find yourself humming these tunes all day long. No lie. All. Day. Long. You will wake up with these songs in your brain. Ever have a drum beat stuck in your head? You will. I defy you to listen to Kenny Ortiz’s work on “One Last Show” without driving your co-workers batshit trying to recreate that rhythm on your desk at work or school. There’s an overall different vibe to this album than both Fight With Tools and the grossly, GROSSLY underrated Survival Story. Tracks like “On Loss and Having” and “Wrestling Israel” provide a powerful, more foreboding presence than previous efforts – the former, giving emcee Jonny 5 a chance to stretch his pipes like never before – showing a side to him that’s unlike what we’re used to hearing, but giving us something we all knew he was capable of.
As always, vocal duties are divided between Jonny 5 and his partner-in-rhyme Brer Rabbit – with additional vocals provided by violist Mackenzie Gault, who seems to become more comfortable behind the mic with every release – evidenced here on tracks like “Run (Run Run Run)” and “The Rose and the Thistle”. To their credit, Flobots have never exploited the fact that they have a female in the band, like so many others have done, but there’s a freshness to Mackenzie’s voice in this setting that one can’t help but wonder if there was more of an effort to shift the point of focus, whether it wouldn’t alter the trajectory of the band in some way. Of course, this isn’t to say 5 and Rabbit have reached their expiration date - the emcees throw down the lyrical gauntlet in their long-standing war against apathy but with less of a vociferate tone which speaks to the growth the band has shown since Survival Story, because god knows you can’t get people off their asses by spelling out R-E-V-O-L-U-T-I-O-N for them. Flobots are smart enough to realize it all starts with looking up the definition on your own. It’s not their job to give us answers, but at least they can give us all hope.