Album Review

‚ÄčAnti-Flag - American Spring

Released May 25, 2015
Lisa Sanchez
‚ÄčAnti-Flag, the Pittsburgh punk trio that has been rocking foot-high mohawks since you were still in diapers, has released their eighth full-length album American Spring. While the album is solid and evokes the essence of the band's legendary activism and political ethos, it feels a bit watered down for a band that created a wall of musical hate against George W. Bush in the early 2000s. Anything short of utter politicized venom just falls a little short for a band like Anti-Flag.
American Spring comes out swinging with "Fabled World," vocalist Justin Sane's depiction of a dystopian world that hits a little too close to home with genocide and violence. The song has Anti-Flag's patented combination chorus chants with some decisive guitar riffs, but it reminds me more of Sum 41 with bouncy beats than Anti-Flag with their focused marching songs.
However, it's not all highlighting the failings of the current world order (although, it's mostly that) songs like "Brandenburg Gate," "Break Something," "Lower Expectations" are exhilarating and fun. "Brandenburg Gate" was literally stuck in my head for days; it's more than infectious, it's viral. The song features Tim Armstrong of Rancid/Operation Ivy fame and his vocals add a nice raspy foil to Sane's high-register howl. "Brandenburg Gate" stands out on the album because it deviates from Anti-Flag's norm with its relaxed air and classic Clash aura. It's a solid punk-like song: Not strong enough for love, but good enough to wait for you by a bridge. "Break Something" acts as a soundtrack for those days where you just want to walk down the street and violently kick anything that gets in your way. It's fast, powerful, and has some quality Anti-Flag anger.
American Spring is peppered with songs you can't stop listening to, like, "Set Yourself on Fire" with calculated harmonies and solid lyrics and "Believer" that harnesses Anti-Flag's political intelligence with well-constructed protest songs. However, there are moments when the album dips, not because of inability, but because it feels like Anti-Flag have stopped doing their homework. "Walk Away" and "Song For Your Enemy" are less civil disobedience and more "fill in the name of your political unrest here" with general disgruntlement. There is a core of the band's revolutionary spirit, but it seems unfocused and half-hearted for an embodied punk protest music act sizzling for a number of years. Anti-Flag could fill the gap in political music that we are sorely missing and they dropped the ball on that count.
"Lower Expectations" is a little somber. It's like the beginning of a downslope. It's placement as the second to the last song on the album seems appropriate because it almost explains the drop in Anti-Flag's vigor. Sane sings, "Living our lives with low expectations...I know that this is going nowhere. It's hard for me to fucking care. I don't." If not intentional, "Lower Expectations" definitely punctuates the album as a tipping point; a look into the thoughts of an aging punk movement. A series of thoughts that occurs to me more and more often as I get older.
American Spring is a great album, but it's not a great album for a band that has founded itself on shaking up regular people's political knowledge and aiming for change. Anti-Flag appears to have mellowed out a bit, and American Spring is the band's manifestation of that attitude. Don't disregard the album, American Spring is a deserved addition to Anti-Flag's discography, but it's not the spark that starts the inferno. It's more like the charcoal that starts the barbecue.