Paper + Plastick Records
Flatfoot 56 has been burning the midnight oil for over a decade now, but it wasn’t until their breakout full length, Black Thorn, that the working class role models really caught the ear of the punk community. Sailing in under the guise of celtic punk, the heavily influenced street punkers generated buzz with their weathered tales of the everyday grind, grounding the band’s sincerity in their tales of work, exploitation, and faith in humanity. Two years later and the boys return, raising their profile once again with their sixth studio album and Paper + Plastick Records debut, Toil.
Serving as an ode to the North American working class, and those who “toil” to keep their families fed and their head above the raising economic tides of poverty, Flatfoot 56 wave the flag of defiance that has fueled union and workers’ rights for decades. The title track paints a particularly powerful picture. Drawing upon the personalized pull of a humble acoustic guitar, the band communicates an earnest picture of exploitation with vocalist Tobin Bawinkel exploding into a sympathetic, violin aided eulogy. I only use block quotes when I consider short summary an injustice to the source, so take note of the rich poetry and strong intent – it’s a line that would have made John Lennon shed a prideful tear:
“Upon this lonely railroad spike my hammer swung and fell, down the mighty Mississipp where the raging water swell / in the corner of that factory a dark man made hell, I’ll be sitting there in my stare making what they sell / with a silver spoon breaking my teeth, the boys in the land working just to eat, are you picturing the stories that I’ve seen / a child working day and night, a father turned into a ghostly sight… I’m a poor man just trying to remain, as he pays his toil of pain”
They’re the type of lyrics upon which the Dropkick Murphys and Street Dogs built their reputation, but seldom evidence as of late.
The album’s inflection ranges from defeat to outright resistance. “Brother, Brother” details a fist-pumping struggle to open the eyes of those waning down a path of moralistic self-destruction, while “The Rich The Strong and The Poor” takes the liberating stance of pursuing one’s calling, a sentiment echoed by the chilling group woahs of “I Believe It.” “Work For Them” trumpets personal self-determination, while “Terrorizing Truth” speeds along quickly while they blast mass media’s societal and political manipulation.
Without question, Toil is an empowering listen, and while the lyrics steal the show, they would fall flat if not for the confident music backing their message. Mandolin’s fly, acoustic guitars burgeon, bagpipes beam, and a tough as nails drumbeat heads the charge. And while the obvious folk roots typically run through each song in spirit, the boys break out with banjos, harmonicas, and the full experience in “6’10”.
With nary a misstep, Flatfoot 56 establish Toil as this year’s working class battle cry, cementing the Chicago-based quintet as sustainable genre leaders who have what it takes to inspire pride and determination in an audience hungry for validation. If you’ve heard the group in the past, or tune in to working class, Celtic leaning punk, then you won’t hear any surprises, but you might be surprised at just how tight and communicative the young crew has become. Hands down one of the year’s most inspiring albums.