For Fans Of
I often like to treat January as the catch-up period on shit that I missed in the previous year; whether it be for KYS or for my own leisure. With it now being February, with more and more new records coming out, and with very little time left to look back on yesteryear, one such release that passed me by was ‘American Fall’, the latest record by Pittsburg punk rock veterans, Anti-Flag. It’s a release I really wanted to get to and I must say, ‘American Fall‘ is easily one of Anti-Flag’s strongest and most varied records of this decade, in terms of both production and musical style. It’s also one of their better albums from this decade too!
Obviously, like all Anti-Flag records, the group’s tenth outing once again shows the four-piece sticking right to their left-wing political guns (far more Sanders than Clinton, mind you), offering their politically charged lyrics of social activism, anti-war activism, anti-imperialism, class struggle, wealth inequality, human rights, and many other socio-political sentiments. After all, ‘American Fall’ is as the name suggests, about the supposed moral and ethical fall of the US of A over the past few years. Plus, it’s a nice little titular follow up to 2015’s solid ‘American Spring‘ LP.
While I’m not libertarian, I can still respect someone like Eric July and his band BackWordz for sticking to their guns in their music. And the very same goes for outspoken left-wing groups like Anti-Flag, one of my favourite punk rock bands right up there with the likes of Rise Against, The Flatliners, Millencolin, NOFX, and Bad Religion. These guys deliver their melodic punk rock tunes with so much conviction and their lyrics aim to educate and inform the listener – just watch any of their videos from this new record – and this is something I feel got lost with a lot of other punk rock bands over the years. Thankfully, Anti-Flag are keeping that aspect alive and burning bright.
Now, not only was Prophets Of Rage’s self-titled album one of the worst rock records but also just one of the worst records of 2017 in general, it was also one of the most political release to come from that musical realm (even if it was just a very cursory, drab, buzzword-driven release in that regards). Yet records like ‘American Fall‘ – or even Algiers‘ ‘The Underside Of Power‘ if you want a noisy, bluesier, more post-punk comparison – that contains a strong political crutch but also deliver in terms of the actual music and songs. Because, while maybe not as perfect, as dangerous, or as core “punk” as this record could’ve been, for the most part, Anti-Flag haven’t sounded this creative nor this fucking energised in years on ‘American Fal;’
As the holy trinity of Anti-Flag records proves – ‘The Terror State’ (2003), ‘For Blood And Empire’ (2006) and ‘The Bright Lights Of America’ (2008) – this band’s at their best when they infuse the blistering punk speed and underground rage of their youth, the catchy melodies and sing-along inducing hooks of their more recent, better-known releases, with the topical, worldly politics that have driven their messages and music along so well since day one.
While ‘American Spring’ (2015) and ‘The General Strike’ (2012) were both fine records, their inter-moving parts were often greater than their total sums – ‘Without End‘ and ‘The Debate Is Over‘ dominated the former, whereas 1915‘ and ‘The Ghosts Of Alexandria‘ stand tall amongst the latter. Here, it’s the other way around in a lot of ways as this record as a whole shines instead of a handful of songs (even if some songs here – like ‘Casualty‘ or ‘Trouble Follows Me‘ – aren’t quite as heavy or as boosted as their siblings). I feel that this really comes from the fact the band branched out of their anthemic punk rock sound slightly and into other genres, even taking the odd risk or two along the way.
For instance, the added vocals effects of slight pitch-correction and distortion on Justin Sane’s vocals in opener ‘American Attraction’ – a first for the band – gives Anti-Flag an almost radio-rock-feel, more so than anything else in this band’s back catalogue of late. But the inclusion of autotune here is an artistic choice as we literally have dozens of other examples of Sane giving solid vocal performances, as well as this being the only song on ‘American Fall’ to take this vocal production route. Other than that, I must admit that ‘American Attraction‘ is a decent if inoffensive song; aiming for a wide generalization of the circus that is America yet without the sharp detail and pin-pointed lyrics that make some of the band’s best works what they are. Yet from this so-so opening moment, the record races from solid tune to solid political tune.
The catchy, upbeat and ska-influenced ‘When The Wall Falls’ advocates for gender and race equality and sounds more like Rancid than anything else, complete with wailing organ and all. (Note: the better, older Rancid that is, not that new and shittier Rancid). The mid-tempo, bass-driven and hip-shaking acoustic-punk track of ‘Finish What We Started’ tackles racial profiling and gun violence via one of the catchiest tunes Anti-Flag have cut since ‘Brandenburg Gate’. ‘The Criminals’, which takes its tonal aim at the richest of the rick (the 1%, wealthy bankers, untouchable CEO’s, etc.) who continue wealth disparity in America, is a classic, utterly anthemic and direly pissed-off Anti-Flag track; culled straight from the anger of ‘Mobilize‘ and ‘Underground Network‘ (2001) as well as the tone and hooks of the band’s ‘For Blood And Empire’ days. Likewise, the quartet really pick up the record’s pace with the brisk, bass riffing and guitar-screeching ‘Liar’, this quick and scathing middle finger to the U.S. pharmaceutical industry that’ll please older fans. Elsewhere, the short but sweet ‘Racists’ is one of the most pop-punk tracks of the group’s entire discography; bright, cheery, and melodic, despite the lyrical call-out of bigots and closet racists the world over. Regardless of these genre shifts or production differences, the band’s songwriting skills cut through like a fine knife on these 11 tracks.
Of course, as any Anti-Flag fan will hopefully inform you, one of the band’s strongest dynamics overall is the vocal play-off between Sane’s slightly smoother, higher pitch and bassists Chris #2’s rougher, grittier punk rock yells. Funnily enough, its the more alt-rock-than-punk ‘Digital Blackout’ – one of the most affecting songs about war, post-military-service life, and the questionable actions of soldiers just doing their jobs (and it’s video nails that tone and mood) – that’s the record’s best examples of this vocal dynamic. A long-running element that has made Anti-Flag a real staple amongst the punk rock world over their many years together, and here, it’s shown-off in fine form.
There was a joke that many people ran into the ground back in 2016, something along the lines of: “If Trump wins, at least we’ll get four years of awesome punk rock music”. Of course, if any band was going to deliver one insanely super-charged political punk rock record, it was going to be Anti-Flag. Yet, in that sense alone, ‘American Fall’ comes close but is sadly no cigar. Now, I’m not so much of a punk rock purist that I feel cheated that the band worked with Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden for this record as a producer – if anything, that’s helped this release to no end. No, the sole criticism that I can level at Anti-Flag’s tenth LP is that it’s gone in a slightly different musical direction than the path many die-hard fans and casual listeners expected them too, one that given the current political climate of America, could’ve been even more interesting and gripping. Quite clearly, they’re still pissed-off, they’re still political, and they’ve still made a lot of noise with this new release… just maybe not in the way many hoped for. So, if you can accept that and see beyond Anti-Flag’s varied production and poppier moments here, ‘American Fall’ will reward you in spades.
- American Attraction
- The Criminals
- When The Wall Falls
- Trouble Follows Me
- Finish What We Started
- Digital Blackout
- I Came. I Saw. I Believed.
- Throw It Away
‘American Fall’ is out now.