Review Date: 12/13/13
Review By: Ben Knight
Release Date: 11/22/13
If you’re anything like me you’ve had a hole in your heart for the last decade, a hole that could only be filled by the release of a new Five Iron Frenzy album. November 22nd marked the ten year demise of one of ska’s most beloved bands and we couldn’t be happier to see them resurrected. With their newest offering Engine of a Million Plots we have what seems to be a more mature (but not too mature) band who are out to prove they can still hack it. There is something more cohesive about this album than their previous efforts, as in past releases it always seemed as though there was a struggle between the serious and goofy sides of Five Iron Frenzy. Another thing to note is that the production on this album might be the best to date as well, thanks to the amazing fans who supported their Kickstarter campaign
There is definitely more of an Electric Boogaloo feel to this album but it feels more like a natural progression than going back to the well. Going back to the days of “Oh, Canada” or “Combat Chuck” might be doing the band a disservice and squelch the creative juices which went into making this album. At this point, I’m sure most people will call this a rock album with horns but I think there’s more to it than that. If you listen closely you can hear some obvious (and some maybe not so obvious) inspirations which went into each of these songs. This is the same Five Iron we’ve come to know and love but with a slightly different lineup and sound. The only instrumental change being Scott Kerr, (who took over the bass duties from long time bassist Keith Hoerig) with the rest of the band staying the same but with some renewed passion. In short, this engine doesn’t stall and there are no holes in these plots.
The album opens with the track “Against a Sea of Troubles” and grabs your attention from the very first second. Listening to the first 30 seconds of feedback and lightly distorted chords I found myself becoming anxious and unsure of what to expect but, as the rest of the band comes in moments later, I let out a sigh of relief knowing that this album was going to be something special. Reese Roper, being the wordsmith that he is, grabs a hold of you from the very first verse: “To only end the heartache, to shed this mortal coil, face pressed to the earth, I’m frozen to the soil.” Throughout the song you feel a struggle someone is having with their faith and perhaps life in general. Next in line is the song “So Far” that has a little more of a punkish feel with a breakdown at around the two minute mark. With this track Roper finds another interesting way to convey his message, with the song intertwining superhero abilities (Hulk, Superman, and Spiderman) with his relationship with God and, in doing so, showing that through Christ we can do anything but that He is still the biggest variable in that equation.
“Zen and the Art of Xenophobia” comes out swinging with big drums and bass and once again gives the horn section room to shine. This song finds a way to be humorous whilst dealing with the seriousness of Xenophobia (the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or something strange and foreign). Phrases like “When you play this song Al Qaeda Wins, Jesus was American” and “Lock and load just like Jesus did) cover both of those bases. “We Own the Skies” is another song where you hate to hear the horns go away because the melody is so great. Along with the great horns, the lyrics show us the struggle that goes on in a musician’s heart when they choose to stop doing that which they love “for a steady paycheck.” The song that changes the pace of the album, if only for a moment, is the reggae heavy “Someone Else’s Problem.” Slowing things down and putting the horns up front, this track shows some diversity we haven’t really seen from the band up until this point.
The real standout track for me personally is “I am Jack’s Smiling Revenge.” While being a quote from the movie Fight Club it is also one of the more serious songs on the album. Although since I haven’t spoken to anyone in Five Iron Frenzy, I won’t speculate on what the song is about but rather leave you to make up your own minds. Musically there is a part in the song which will perk up the ears of anyone who has listened to Neon Horse. Not saying there’s an influence there but it was certainly enjoyable to hear that particular similarity. One of the themes of this album is struggling with faith and one particular track which highlights that is “To Start a Fire.” Roper takes lyric writing seriously and seems to put personal experiences into many Five Iron songs and, if he’s not speaking from personal experiences, he is able to paint an imaginative picture with his words in a way that a lot of lyricists can’t.
As soon as I heard the opening bass riff of “Battle Dancing Unicorns (With Glitter)” I knew it was going to be awesome. I just didn’t know it would be this awesome. This track is by far the one we were all hoping would show up and it does so with some serious fury. For those familiar with Brave Saint Saturn you’ll find this song has a little bit of that feel to it. Lyrically this song is one of their silliest with amazing lines like “what are you some sort of computer, and we’ll say, A cyborg pimp from the future.” This will easily find its way onto any playlists you make for the next few months. “Into Your Veins” starts off with a Hives-like intro and becomes what The Killers might sound like if they became a ska band. The band has really incorporated a lot of musicality into this album and it’s very evident. If you’re anything like me you purchased “It Was a Dark & Stormy Night” two years ago but it fits the overall feel of this album and still manages to sound new and fresh. “I’ve Seen the Sun” brings the album to its near close nicely but it’s “Blizzards and Bygones” that gives you tingles. While it is a slower driving song (until the bridge) it once again showcases the horns nicely and has a hauntingly theatrical vibe to it. The lyrics are definitely some of the band’s most melancholic ones but there seems to be an element of triumph that goes along with them.
As a longtime fan I had a hard time at first accepting this new version of Five Iron Frenzy. After a few listens though I came to the conclusion that I believe most listeners will……Like a lot of things that get better with time and age, this band in no different.
Artist: Five Iron Frenzy
Album: Engine of a Million Plots
Release Date: November, 26 2013
Record Label: Independent/Kickstarter Funded
Album Length: 41 Minutes 11 Seconds
Album Track Listing:
1. Against a Sea of Troubles (3:27)
2. So Far (3:27)
3. Zen and the Art of Xenophobia (3:14)
4. We Own the Skies (2:45)
5. Someone Else’s Problem (3:16)
6. I Am Jack’s Smirking Revenge (3:06)
7. To Start a Fire (3:56)
8. Battle Dancing Unicorns (With Glitter) (3:44)
9. Into Your Veins (3:02)
10. It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (3:24)
11. I’ve Seen the Sun (3:03)
12. Blizzards and Bygones (4:54)