Music Reviews

posted: February 14, 2009


Flobots – Fight With Tools Fight With Tools

Universal Republic
Flobots – Fight With Tools

I have an audiophile pal in his late 50s who still can’t believe that I listen to hip-hop, and he clings to that antiquated and stubborn mind frame that there’s no musical value in rap. Fear of a Black Planet didn’t convince him, nor did Stankonia. Something tells me, however, that Fight With Tools might. This debut album from the Denver-based Flobots combines the highly political and social outrage of Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine with a musical sophistication rare in hip-hop these days.  Not only do the Flobots avoid excessive scratching and sampling techniques, but even add generous doses of viola and trumpet to their traditional rock band complement.

As sort of a What’s Going On for the 21st century, Fight With Tools paints the band’s moral indignation with typically broad strokes.  The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is mentioned more than once, as is the Civil Rights Movement, the legalization of marijuana and even Barack Obama (which, according to the song “The Rhythm Method (Move!)” is Arabic for “withdraw from Vietnam”).  While political awareness is far from novel in the world of rap, the Flobots sweeten the pot with a stunning musical palette, flowing easily from rock, rap and funk, sometimes in the same song.  This band has a unique and exciting signature that at times gave me actual goosebumps.

The soaring highlight of Fight With Tools, however, is the single “Handlebars.”  Tracing the corruption of our innocence by ambition, and then hate and greed, we’re taken from “I can ride my bike with no handlebars” to “I can end the planet in a holocaust” in an alarmingly quick three minutes, with violist Mackenzie Roberts plucking a delicate and unwavering melody throughout this hell-in-a-handbasket ride.  For me, this is that rare song that only comes along every few years where I have to play it over and over until I’m exhausted.  The rest of Fight With Tools is almost as astonishing.

–Marc Phillips