Flobots - The Circle In The Square Review
This progressive blend of hip hop and groove-fusion hits somewhere between the two marks set by their previous efforts: debut album 'Fight With Tools' and 2010's 'Survival Story.' A hybrid between the popular-ism of the initial and the distinctive nature of the latter. The result is something that both works and doesn't at the same time.
Tracks like 'Run Run Run' and 'Gonna Be Free' in particular revert to the hook-laden approach of the debut. The former has a pretty annoying chorus; but this is more than compensated for by strong verses, a nice offbeat guitar riff and an incredible post-chorus hook which syncs up really well with Kenny O's perpetually tight drumming.
Mackenzie Gault's vocal talents are utilized a lot more this time around, both in a lead and backing capacity. This works best on the gentle but powerful chorus of 'Wrestling Israel', but not so well on the repetitive 'The Rose and the Thistle'. The latter is one of a few songs which I would label as filler material, something which I haven't previously encountered on a Flobots release.
What I love about this band is the complexity of their flows, but the verses are for the most part less impressive than what I've come to expect, due to the ostensible wish for catchiness and the potential for fist-pumping in a live setting. This is especially evident on the title track. It's not that the lyrics are bad, just simplified to a degree which I consider excessive.
'One Last Show' is probably the strongest song on the record. It's basically the token relatively-apolitical-super-funky-fun-time-dance-number you come across at least once on each Flobots album (See Also: 'Combat', 'The Rhythm Method', 'The Effect'). It's a perfect example of what Flobots are all about: Kenny O's aforementioned tight drumming, slap bass, Star Wars references and otherwise quirky lyricism, intricately layered vocal harmonies, and pleas for 'peace in the Middle East' without even a slight acknowledgement of futility.
It's entirely possible that my reservations towards this album will fade away with repeated listens. After all, it took me a few months to properly appreciate 'Survival Story;' but based on first impressions this is my least favourite Flobots album so far, feeling like a bit of a backwards step. It still retains the cleverness and quirkiness that Flobots are not quite famous for, just with less consistency. Still, it's more intelligent and more original than 99% of other hip-hop artists' output. So ironically, I suppose Flobots are the 1%, the elite of contemporary hip-hop, even if this record doesn't quite prove that on its own. 6/10