Flobots: Good/Not good

Flobots are good

TED BERG:

As someone who enjoyed his formative years during the Clinton administration and now resides in Brooklyn, I’m contractually obligated to dislike anything that is at all earnest. That said, I think I kind of like Flobots.

They’re funky, for one thing. And they’re refreshing in that they don’t neatly fit into any marketable sub-genre. Flobots resist categorization like they do the definite article, blending hip-hop, funk, rock and jazz and drawing on influences as various as Rage Against the Machine and Cake. They’ve got a unique lineup featuring trumpet and violin, and MC Jonny 5 raps over live drumming about as smoothly as anybody has since Speech from Arrested Development, though it’s not like there’s been a lot of competition.

Speaking of things named Arrested Development, Flobots actually name-check Buster Bluth in a song. So they like Cake, Rage Against the Machine and Arrested Development. In short, we have common interests.

And in an era that’s absolutely begging for politically charged music, Flobots appear to be one of the few outfits actually making it successfully. Their lyrics are rarely subtle; Jonny 5 appears to prefer blunt leftist sentiment – the type of stuff a good liberal might want to scream in the ears of a group of 17-year-olds, quite likely Flobots’ target audience. And Flobots’ biggest hit thus far, “Handlebars”, presents among the best and most easily digestible metaphors I’ve heard for the Bush Administration mentality that produced our current economic and international crises.

If they’re not lyrically sophisticated, Flobots make up for it musically. Their song “The Rhythm Method” switches meters without ever sounding obnoxious, and throughout their major label debut Fight With Tools they manage some consistency of style without becoming too repetitive.

Bottom line, Flobots’ music, unlike that of Wyld Stallyns, is unlikely to save the world. It is, however, good, funky, radio-friendly fare at a time when there’s just far too much Nickelback occupying the nation’s airwaves.

Flobots are not good, and you, sir, can go to hell

TED BERG, TWO DRINKS LATER:

You may smell like a journalist, but you write like a 10-year-old ESL student, you jackass. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about this shitty band.

You’re right when you suggest that Flobots are unique. They’re completely original in their ability to rip off influences as various as Rage Against the Machine and Cake. Listen to the song “Same Thing.” Now listen to Cake’s “Arco Arena.” Sounds kind of like Flobots just said, “Hey, let’s write a Cake song and do a Rage Against the Machine rap over it!” In fact, that’s pretty clearly how it went down. And that’s lame.

And those lyrics? Let me break off a little sample for those without the patience to listen to the song:

We need money for healthcare and public welfare
Free Mumia and Leonard Peltier
Human needs, not corporate greed
Drop the debt and legalize weed
We say ‘yes’ to grassroots organization
‘No’ to neoliberal globalization
Bring the troops back to the USA
And shut down Guantanamo Bay

Brilliant. Fucking brilliant. Jonny 5 probably pulls his lyrics straight off Ralph Nader’s wikipedia page. “Oh my god, bro. Check it out – I can rhyme ‘corporate greed’ with ‘legalize weed.’” Good news, grassroots organizations: Flobots are in your camp. And they HATE neoliberal globalization.

One thing the Flobots don’t hate is similes. That song where they name-check Buster Bluth? That song is filled with obvious similes like an 8th grade English-class project about similes. Dig:

This is out of hand like Buster Bluth
Leave you sounding like Rusted Root
Bots out your mouth like a busted tooth…
This is rap’s last stop like Castle Rock
The bots blast off like an astronaut
I suppose we came to get started
Throw them bows like some angry archers
Our delivery’s pedigree headed for the charts soon
Hit you in the heart like a harpoon
Like the chambers of the Wu-Tang Clan
Flobots got that Method Man

You see, Flobots do this like this. Except the last time, when they mix it up by reversing the format of the simile. Very clever. That’s a modifier. Except unlike the chambers of the Wu-Tang Clan, Flobots don’t got that Method Man. If they did, they’d be a whole hell of a lot more awesome.

(Method Man may not be in Flobots, but might very well be in Wing Wagon on Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn, where I’ve seen him on multiple occasions. He’s making the right choice.)

I would think you, Ted Berg, would know better than to try to sell me on shlock like this. We were together when we found out about Rage Against the Machine. We were in Jimmy Lynch’s basement, and he said, “Check out this new band; they’re Indians,” and turned on “Freedom” and everything was new and awesome.

That music is anger. This music here, Flobots? This is angst. Now there are all sorts of inherently problematic things about Rage Against the Machine, I’ll grant you that – most notably the very notion of socialist rock stars – but Zack De La Rocha’s rhymes just had so much more complexity to them. That’s the guy who said, “Europe ain’t my rope to swing on,” when referring to the American educational system. Jonny 5 says, “Hit you in the heart like a harpoon.”

Sure, Flobots are better than Nickelback, but so is the sound of a dying duck dragging its claws across a rusty blackboard, and you don’t see me writing any glowing reviews on this site in favor of old Mr. Quackers. We shouldn’t call them good just because everything else on the radio sucks, just like we shouldn’t say they’re forwarding social progress just because every other band is, well, Nickelback.

Flobots couple derivative music with simplistic lyrics that are ignorantly adherent to the party line. Enjoy their funky guitar riffs if you like, but beware the swirling mass of bouncing idiots in Burton sweatshirts, pumping their fists and slapping one another five and shouting, “I’m making a change, brah!”

Those fans, like the band members themselves, are no better than the protagonist of their satirical “Handlebars,” a song that ridiculed the American tendency to flaunt wealth, power and ability. It doesn’t matter how tightly you’re hanging on to the handlebars if you’re not paying any attention to where you’re going.

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