Fight With Tools
Flobots’ ambition is almost always on display on this, their first full-length album, and why not? Coming from the dense cradle of respectable hip hop that is Denver, Colorado, they basically have nothing to lose. Three American flag bandanas to the wind, (see album cover) Flobots attack the status quo armed with perceptive lyrics, guitars, bass, drums, trumpet, and even the ever so hip hop viola. The musicality of the album is impressive, and the versatility of the live component is a cornerstone of this unique assault. The only slipups here occur when they deviate from their self-devised approach and start sounding like they’re following in identifiable footsteps.
On first listen I was thrown into attack mode pretty early. After a well-done spoken word piece entitled “There’s A War Going On For your Mind,” I think I hear someone doing an Aesop Rock impression talking about breaking the mold…I float into thoughts of white rappers forcing themselves into just such a mold…and I’m clearly in for a long listen. The next track “Same Thing” pushes off and settles into another recognizable flow…seriously??….and it hits me. This one sounds like a blueprint for a J5 record. Fuck me!!*!!!
Upon further review, the lyrical content and musicality of these songs do redeem them to an extent, and the album’s only real weak patch is quickly left behind in the Denver dust.
“Stand Up” points the ship in the right direction, with emcees Brer Rabbit and Jonny 5 poignantly chanting and churning over a lush and subtle beat…and we’re off.
“Handlebars” is the disc’s standout and it’s a triumph; a woven fabric of intricate Juxtaposition and precise lyrical stitching. Uplifting lyrics (“I can design an engine sixty four miles to a gallon of gasoline, I can make new antibiotics”) play against a mellow string and bass soundscape, while notions of negativity and doom (“I can end the planet in a holocaust”) are thrown against fast and rocky musical terrain. Even the gap is stitched in with the precision of a Persian rug maker, bridging lyrically (“I can hand out a million vaccinations or let ‘em all die in exasperation / have ‘em all healed from their lacerations or have ‘em all killed by assassination”) and musically at once, while touching on issues of power and responsibility.
The tight cadence that works so well with the complexity and song structure of “Handlebars” is blurred at times while looser flows run ashore into complex musical backgrounds. Most of the album’s vocals stand up valiantly to the complexities of the sonic backgrounds, however, and the result is a singular and solid vessel. For the most part, Fight With Tools is a revelation from the Rockies, possessing a shrewdness and musical style that could carry Flobots into serious focus down river.
- Russell Rubin (okayplayer.com)