Flobots new album was released so under-the-radar that I’m just discovering it now, despite coming out in May. Known best for their surprise hit “Handlebars”, the alternative hip-hop act’s newest album Noenemies is a powerful stylistic mash-up that doesn’t waiver from the group’s politically and socially conscious voice.
Tackling so many issues, ranging from depression (“Failure Games”), to DACA (“American Dreams”), to the never-ending war machine (“Quarantine”), the album can be so heavy that it risks collapsing under the weight. And while there is no sign of the dark, satirical quirk that help propel “Handlebars” onto the Billboard charts, the excellent and varied musicianship makes the work captivating instead of alienating. The dark bluesy chorus of “Blood in the River” turns the song into a haunting folk-hop track, elevated further at the end by a ripping guitar solo. First single “Carousel” opens with a twee-pop verse, followed by a melodic rock chorus. When the rap verses finally come in over a computerized organ melody, it feels like you’ve listened to three different songs within the span of a minute – but the group manages to make it work.
While the complex song structures and darker tones make this collection a tough one for pop radio, there are lighter, hookier moments. Standout “Dancing in the Light of a Burning City (Phoenixes)” has a jazzy, samba swing that is the closest this album gets to a club banger, and the gospel-tinged “Related” is imbued with an unexpected warmth.
There is a lot happening on this record. The lyrics are smart but dense. The beats are accompanied by horns, violins and all other sorts of instrumentation. You’ll be head-banging to a hard rock chorus one moment (“Quarantine”), and swaying to a soulful one the next (“Buried Alive”). All the while, there are dueling lyrics between the group’s two front men. It’s an accomplished work that will never bore you, and rewards the time invested in it.