The Good: Decent lyrics, Vocals are not bad . . .
The Bad: Overproduced, Vocals are very predictable and basic, Musically indistinct
The Basics: The Circle In The Square by Flobots illustrates just how hard it can be for a hip hop band to stay politically relevant.
As August nears its end, I am at the end of the Flobots experience (for now). While I was very impressed by Fight With Tools (reviewed here!) and did not have the issued most people seemed ot have with Survival Story (reviewed here!), after several listens, I am finding The Circle In The Square wanting. The Circle In The Square sounds like a number of other hip hop albums and the comparison one might make between Flobots and The Black-Eyed Peas seems especially apt on their third album.
The Circle In The Square is not a horrible album, but it is largely unimpressive and what one might expect of a politically-themed hip hop album. There is a mild musical progression between the Flobots debut and The Circle In The Square, but the album makes one thing that this would have been what The Black-Eyed Peas would have been doing if they had kept their music socially-conscious, like their first mainstream hit, "Where's The Love?" But because The Circle In The Square is generally mundane, it is hard to get excited about writing much about the work.
With eighteen tracks, with more than fifty-two minutes of music, The Circle In The Square is very much the work of Flobots. The band wrote all of the lyrics and composed the songs as well. Flobots plays all of the instruments on The Circle In The Square; this seems very much to be the album they intended to create.
Unfortunately, much of The Circle In The Square feels derivative. The vocals on "Gonna Be Free" sound like Anthony Kiedis and most of the raps sound generic and amelodic. Once again, Mackenzie Roberts's vocals stand out as some of the most distinctive of the album on The Circle In The Square. Her performance on "The Rose And The Thistle" is hypnotic and captivating in a way none of the other tracks are.
Instrumentally, none of the songs on The Circle In The Square stand out as a would-be single. Auditorily, the album is largely indistinct with none of the songs having a musical presence like the tracks on their prior albums. "Sides" sounds like a Red Hot Chili Peppers song and "One Last Show" could have been a lost Black-Eyed Peas track.
What saves The Circle In The Square from being unlistenable are the lyrics. Once again, Flobots has perceptive, politically-astute lines that continue to resonate even years later. Indeed, Flobots does not mortgage its audience when the group sings about gun violence: "Saw the wounds, heard the screams, thought about your last meal / How we ate like kings, how you led us all in grace / How nobody had foreseen what would soon take place / And when everything went down / The silence you left was the strangest sound" ("On Loss And Having").
Given that The Circle In The Square was released in 2012, it is unsurprising that they have some somewhat dated anti-capitalist rhetoric. The song "#Occupyearth" is a clear allusion to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Even so, while it has references like "And we're called a crowd / And we have the tools / So we sing aloud / And we stand up / And we all fall down," it still manages to try for some more universal messages like "I collect recollections / And echoed reflections of moments of loyalty / And defection and measure my essence / A servant or despot, storm or a tempest / Word or a sentence, was I heard or never mentioned" ("#Occupyearth").
Perhaps what is most notable about The Circle In The Square is that Flobots does not shy away from controversy. On "Wrestling Israel," Flobots attempts to tackle the difficulties presenting the nation of Israel in a musical fashion. With the lines "A measure of a man is kindness / Why do I preach to the choir and whatever my kind is? / My eyes are on the other side of minus / If my lifestyle tapes from the other side, I'm fine with / Threats to my climate hang in the air like promise" ("Wrestling Israel"), Flobots throws their hat into the philosophical ring of the Middle East quagmire.
Ultimately, though, The Circle In The Square is an unremarkable album and it leaves fans hoping that as the band continues, Flobots finds a way to create something truly captivating like they once did.
The best track are "Run (Run Run Run)" and "The Rose And The Thistle;" the rest of the album is pretty forgettable.
For other works from former Artist Of The Month artists, please visit my reviews of:
Blackstar - David Bowie
Remember - Janis Ian
Cold Spring Harbor - Billy Joel
See how this album stacks up against all of the others I have reviewed by checking out my Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best to worst rated!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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