The label is making quite a name for itself as the UK home for independent guitar led blue collar Americana rock, a fact that should give this, the Ohio outfit's seventh studio album a greater awareness on these shores than its predecessors. Comprising singer-guitarist Micah Schnabel and bassist Shane Sweeney, the band's politically engaged songwriters, drummer David Murphy and new addition lead guitarist/singer/producer Todd Farrell Jr, the comparisons come readily, from Against Me! and The Hold Steady to Springsteen and Dinosaur Jr, urgent and energetic, but capable of dialing down when the occasion demands. One such is album opener, "Movies", a simple acoustic strum on which all four members, individually and in harmony, playfully sing about what the unnamed 'they' should do for each of them ("they should put me in the movies … the ball game…the White House…a plane") to bring about a positive result for creativity, sport and politics.
After this, though, they immediately crank it up for the punky and punchy "Terror Ride" and the throaty guitar work of "The Little Light" where, against a midtempo groove, Schnabel recalls being held up at gunpoint in a parking lot ("He had a tattoo underneath his right eye that said, 'Fuck the world,' and I was in no position to disagree") as he sings "I'm not scared anymore, 'Cause I'd rather die in that parking lot, than ever feel that helpless again." From here they explode into the thundering title track with its "I don't believe in anything" refrain and the surging "History Now" as Sweeney takes over for a call to arms that asks "What if it is up to us to figure how the future all turns out?"
As the title suggests, the cascading melody of "A Lullaby Of Sorts" takes the level down a notch or so, Schnabel on lead as the lyrics move from his feelings of unease when a guy walked into an Indiana Burger King with a gun at his hip to recollections of two months spent in juvenile psychiatrics ("my parents didn't visit much, I think they were embarrassed").
The second half gets underway with one of the album's particular standouts, "Let The Boys Be Girls", a piano intro giving way to a Springsteeneseque anthemic styled number (complete with what sounds like tubular bells!) about working things out for yourself because "We don't need old, rich white men to tell us who we can kiss goodnight", namedropping Slayer and talking of God as bad knock knock joke along the way.
Switching to a tango rhythm with a dash of mazurka and some flamenco trumpet, "Shakespeare & Walt Disney", another wordy song about having to find yourself and trying to be someone else or what society wants you to be ("they feed us war movies and Ronald the clown and anti- depressants to wash it all down"), keeps the benchmark high while, on a kindred thematic note, a swaggering "Beauty In The Futility" adopts a rapping approach to the verses with a tumbling punchy chorus to top things off.
The final three cuts don't quite sustain what has gone before - "Continental Distance" a noisy drum pounding, flags over the barricades number, "I Promise" featuring spoken lyrics that, refusing to give in to the inner voices that say "It's never too soon to give up", build to a screaming crescendo over distorted bluesy guitar work and "Stars" a woozily pared back acoustic track with distant trumpet - but taken as a whole, this Flag is well worth running up the pole and saluting.
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