January 15, 2020 Anti-Flag – 20/20 Vision (Album Review)
It will come as no surprise, given the current climate of the U.S. political landscape, that the socially conscious punks in Anti-Flag have a lot to say. Inspired, they take on neofascists, Christian nationalists, and more on their latest, 20/20 Vision, which arrives on Friday, January 17th, 2020, via Spinefarm Records.
Politically-charged Punker Rockers Anti-Flag hail from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (try saying that five-times fast!) where they got their start in 1988. It was not until 1996 that the band delivered their full-length debut, Die for the Government, but they have more than made up for this fact throughout the past 24 years with 10 additional releases. From 1998’s Their System Doesn’t Work For You to 2017’s American Fall, Anti-Flag have maintained their approach to music, one that utilizes socio-political lyrical content to inspire activism.
Until now, Anti-Flag—Vocalist/Guitarist Justin Sane, Vocalist/Bassist Chris #2, Guitarist Chris Head, and Drummer Pat Thetic—has always opted to not to date their work with current references, instead focusing on fighting ongoing oppression and dismantling deeply-rooted systems of injustice. However, on their twelfth album, the 11-song, Matt Good (Asking Alexandria, Sleeping With Sirens) produced 20/20 Vision, the quartet have done an about-face.
While no names are explicitly given herein, it is abundantly clear who they are speaking about in tracks like “Christian Nationalist,” particularly when coupled with the album’s brazen artwork. Bassist Chris #2 notes, “We have actively chosen to not attack presidents directly, either with album art or songs about certain times in history, because we recognize that the issues we’re dealing with are cyclical. But this record in particular, we kind of said, well fuck that, we need to be on the record in opposition to the policies of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.”
Proudly opposed, 20/20 Vision opens to a voice that you know and loathe as the band launch into the disgustingly ironic “Hate Conquers All.” The acerbic Punk that one would expect from the quartet creates a core for a track that explores the sad fact that hate and fear-mongering are winning the invisible battle, because racism is too dirty to be trumped (pun very much intended) by something as pure as love. Explosively catchy, Anti-Flag get infectious with their first single/video, one that is certain to bring a bittersweet smile to your face.
This sets the tone for what follows: an album that never stops to censor itself. As they continue to dig up more skeletons, the raw “It Went Off Like A Bomb” explores a more old-school feel, musically speaking. Lyrically, lines like “Division sewn to yield a firestorm / Another product of the new norm” harken back to its predecessor, and the divisive goal of fear-mongers.
In a well-done gambit, Anti-Flag soak many of these tracks in sonic sweetness, which serves as a perfect juxtaposition against the multitude of harsh socio-political commentary. This provides yet another reminder (warning?) that if you package your message pretty enough, it will stick in people’s minds. Case in point, the Pop Punk-licious vibes (think old-school Good Charlotte) of the titular track “20/20 Vision.” It might sound like a summer afternoon sweating to death at Warped Tour with all your friends, however, here the rockers ask you consider which side you are on in the gun control debate.
If gun control is too much for you to handle, well, time to tap out now. Next up Anti-Flag call out the “white, neo-fascist supremacist” who is corrupting patriotism on the daily. However, if all of this talk of our doomed republic is dragging you down, chin up! Anti-Flag feel you. “Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down” is a call to arms: to stay strong, stay positive, and to always refuse to be silenced. Tracks like this keep the feeling raw, a more straightforward and less refined approach than the band took on their last full-length, 2017’s American Fall. In this, it is the album’s messages and their sharp edges that dig into the listeners’ ears, and not so much a bouncing beat.
But there are plenty of catchy offerings, like the promise of “Unbreakable” and the stand-out explosion of “The Disease.” Apathy and buried truths tango in the latter, crafting a banger that is guaranteed to necessitate multiple replays. Meanwhile, frenetic and pissed, “A Nation Sleeps” slams home the lies that we tell ourselves to get through our monotonous days; our choice to blind ourselves to society’s ills because, in some instances, ignorance truly can be bliss.
A tribute to the misogynist-in-chief, “You Make Me Sick” is a fairly self-explanatory, unloving spit in the face of a “cynical, condescending, hypocrite.” This paves the way for the snarky ironism of “Un-American.” A slide-guitar begins the drive into this Americana moment, the story of those waking up from their American dreams to finally see the truth in the myth—an inherently unequal economic reality.
But don’t doubt that Anti-Flag are a Punk band, and they toss aside their mockery to bounce back full force for their grand finale, “Resistance Frequencies.” With delicious licks of Ska, they dance through the hot topics of children in cages, pharmaceuticals, border walls, and more, ultimately asking listeners if they are going to sit back and watch it all crumble or join the fight to stop the self-implosion of our nation. In this, 20/20 Vision is a glance into a very probable future, but one that can be stopped if enough people are willing to stand in solidarity and it starts on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020.
Much like the bulk of Anti-Flag’s oeuvre, 20/20 Vision haunts its listeners long after its last notes end. On its surface the record sounds like an upbeat Punk dream, but the issues discussed herein are weighty, timely, and urgent—from the presence of neofascist ideologies in Washington, D.C., to the nation’s opioid crisis to economic inequality. So, though the aural experience is an enjoyable one, it fervently demands something of its listeners.
In this, 20/20 Vision is a rallying cry to those that agree with Anti-Flag’s manifesto: a reminder that there is hope, that we cannot be silenced, and that injustice can be overcome through solidarity—not hatred and lies that force adversity. Socio-political in nature, infectious in its sonic approach, Cryptic Rock give 20/20 Vision 5 of 5 stars. (Heads up to people who want to be educated, the liner notes to the album contain suggested further reading. How many bands do that?)