My general policy is to make my jokes understandable to everyone, and not just the hardcore fans of whatever band I'm talking about. Today I broke that policy by doing nothing but Five Iron Frenzy inside jokes. So, screw me, I guess.
This comic was made to celebrate Five Iron Frenzy's return from the dead after 8 years on hiatus, and the release of their brand new album, Engine Of A Million Plots. Being one of my favorite bands, I would have been happy about it no matter what, even if the album sucked. So the fact that it blew me away made me nothing short of elated. (Pretty sure I cried a few times.) So how good was it? Oh, nothing special really, just a flawless 10/10.
I've mentioned before that getting a 10/10 from me is incredibly rare. There are only a handful of albums that I've ever considered flawless. Heck, even The Answer in all their glory haven't achieved that yet. And the reason for this is because there's always something that could be improved, on any album. There's always something that I wish was better, or different, or that there was more of or less of. I'm incredibly welcoming but also incredibly critical. And of course everything is biased by my own tastes, so an otherwise flawless album could be given a lower score simply because it's not my preferred style. All in all, I'm not one to give out many perfect scores. Five Iron Frenzy had already managed to get one from me a while ago; their previous studio album, The End Is Near, is one of my favorite albums of all time. And now they've managed to beat the odds and give me another one, the first band to ever give me two.
One of the best things about Five Iron Frenzy is the noticeable evolution of their music from album to album. Each album is slightly different from the last, in both recording quality and tone. And each one is indicative of where the band was at that time, and where the members were in their lives. It forms an arc, a story of the band's history told through their music, and it matures and changes along with them. And so naturally, after an 8 year break, the band is at a totally different place than they were before. Thus, Engine Of A Million Plots is unlike any of their previous albums. To start, their constant progression away from ska and towards rock has continued. It's been a while since their music has actually resembled ska as the genre is defined; at this point they're pretty much just a rock band with a horn section (which I like more). In addition, the album's tone is rather somber. The horns have a much deeper timbre, Reese Roper's voice has lowered slightly and his singing is more breathy, and while there are plenty of upbeat choruses, the overall tone is significantly less lighthearted than on previous albums. There's only one really jokey song, and if you remove the lyrics from it, it's still only moderately happy-sounding. All of these changes inform of a band that has gotten older, whose members have grown and changed since they last met, and who have matured both musically and emotionally. Which is exactly where this story was always headed. It's not a surprising change, it's the obvious next chapter in their continuing story, the sequel that picks up 8 years from where we last left off. And even once you remove all that context, and simply focus on the music, you're still left with one incredibly entertaining and well-written album. The level of complexity that can be found within some of Five Iron's arrangements has never ceased to amaze me. Polyphony between the vocal melodies and the horn sections, guitars that play two different rhythm parts, and drumming so consistently adept that it sets the tone of every section without you even realizing. Without context, an amazing album from start to finish, where nearly every song has the potential to be a hit. With context, the beautiful next chapter of an emotional journey 20 years in the making.
The two possible negatives of the album are ones that I noticed, but which I don't personally have any problems with. The first, and most obvious, being the lack of Five Iron's traditional silliness. People know and love FiF for their humor, and anyone looking for a lot of that on this album will be coming up relatively empty-handed. This didn't bother me at all, but I can imagine that some fans might miss the levity. The other possible negative is one that the Sultan brought up to me. After forcing him to listen to the album, he came away from it feeling like most of the songs blended into one another, that they weren't incredibly distinctive or memorable on their own. I don't entirely agree with that, but I can hear exactly what he's talking about. Sometimes it's hard to tell which song is which based on their first 30-60 seconds, their choruses are what really differentiate them from each other. Again, this wasn't something that bothered me, and it wasn't something I would have changed, so it didn't affect my own score at all. Being aware of these possible negatives, I'd accept that the album might not be a perfect 10/10 for everyone. But for me, it's flawless. There's not a single change I would make to it, and I could not have asked for a better follow-up to their previous 10/10.
I've put up a few songs on the MUSIC page for you guys to listen to. An absolutely beautiful verse melody and a catchy harmonized chorus in "We Own The Skies," and the album's sole contribution to quintessential Five Iron-brand humor in "Battle Dancing Unicorns (With Glitter)." And then as a little bonus, my own personal favorite from the album. Pick up Engine Of A Million Plots at these locations. It's probably worth it.