Friday, August 3, 2012

Flatfoot 56 Picks Up Some Celtic Punk

Flatfoot 56 has been a hard-working band for better than a decade, playing hardcore Celtic punk with lyrics that effortlessly roll along like brawny folk songs. Toil, the seventh album from the sometimes overlooked Chicago quintet, carries the folk-punk progression even further while proving their best is right now and yet ahead.

“The record’s sound took on a much more mature, heartfelt tone,” Tobin Bawinkel said. “We’re writing these songs as life gets thrown at us, and as we all get a bit older and start to interpret life in different ways, we want to express ourselves to reflect the victories and defeats that we all go through."

The effort led to a fiercely honest album. It's down to earth enough that people can relate; upbeat enough to keep them on their feet. The fact the album bristles with guitars, bagpipes, and mandolins is a bonus.

Toil reinvigorates working class punk, preferably with a pint and a pit. 

Toil opens up with Brother, Brother, a raucous intervention song of sorts with growls, shouts, gang vocals, and furious guitars. After opening with bagpipes, the song powers through two-and-a-half minutes of relentless punk while remaining true to the rootsy sound that they've laid down for the album.

The Rich, The Strong, And The Poor brings the tempo down to a sing-along pub pace about travel-worn experience and the willingness to trudge through it all for something better. While it's not the best track on the album, it easily highlights their knack for being happy while taking it on the chin.

How The Rich, The Strong, And The Poor fits in. 

In some ways, the song taps into their experience as a band. Originally started in 2000 by the three Bawinkel brothers in high school — Tobin (vocals/guitar), Justin (drums), and Kyle (bass) — it took four more years before the band would begin any hardcore touring, booking shows with anybody who would take them.

Some early years were certainly better than others, interest in Flatfoot 56 has been steadily building ever since, even after original bandmate Josh Robieson (bagpipes/mandolin) had to leave when he graduated from college. The departure opened the doors for Eric McMahon (bagpipes/guitar) and Brandon Good (mandolin/guitar) and paved the way for the single Courage and Black Thorn album.

While some fans were originally put off by the Black Thorn album for bringing in more folk, it was an important step in setting the direction for Toil. It also gave the band a chance to work with producer Johnny Rioux for the first time. Rioux knows how to push them enough to throw their fears in the ocean.

The balance of an album that will attract plenty of attention. 

I Believe It, which is also the lead single from the album, captures this conviction. Much like McMahon alluded to in an interview last year, the song is about talking less and walking more. With gang vocals, hand claps, a mandolin, and courage, there is an uplift to this straightforward and fearless pub song. It doesn't have the same power as an acoustic, but this session will give you a sense of the song.

One of the best aspects of Toil as an album is in the arrangements. There has been great care taken here to make sure one song transitions into the next, with some tracks destined to become standouts.

Among them, the folk ballad Toil is a true testament to working-class sweat. Live Or Die Trying brings the tempo back up with an unapologetic attitude to stand on your own. And Work For Them adds in some rowdy individualism and angst over working hard for other people when you can barely get by.

Toil By Flatfoot 56 Hammers 6.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

What's fresh about Flatfoot 56 is they pine away less and pick themselves up by their own bootstraps to make things happen. Although more heartfelt, there is a ruggedness about the album that obviously comes from somewhere deep inside them. These guys don't give up.

Toil by Flatfoot 56 is available on iTunes. You can also find the album on Amazon or order the CD from Barnes & Noble. The band has several shows booked through October. This weekend, they will play Albuquerque, New Mexico; Tempe, Arizona; and Santa Ana, California. In late August, they have several gigs in the Midwest. For more tour dates, find them on Facebook.
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