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Writing about records like Animal Flag’s latest, Void Ripper, gets tricky. The most utilitarian thing a critic can say to a general audience plays out something like, “Hi readers! Do you like Bright Eyes? Do you like the idea of Bright Eyes except with loud electric guitars? Then this’ll probably be your kind of thing.”
That approach practically begs for accusations of half-assery, but eh, if the shoe fits, then let’s lace that MFer up and break it in with a run to the corner store for a pack of smokes and a two-liter of Coke Zero. Matthew Politoski’s vocal style indeed bears a stark likeness to Conor Oberst’s warbling earnestness, as does his refusal to stick with a designated genre and get away with it. One need only scroll down Animal Flag’s Bandcamp to discover the nascent urban folkee incarnation of the outfit — let’s be daring and call it Animal Flag’s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning era — that existed a bit before the turn of the decade. But I’m not aware of any Bright Eyes song that’d click on an action movie soundtrack quite like Void Ripper’s title track. “Bright Eyes except loud guitars,” isn’t merely an oversimplification. It’s a goddamn achievement.
The same can largely be said of Void Ripper — Animal Flag’s fifth full-length and first under the joint stewardship of Flower Girl Records and emo titans Triple Crown Records, available to the public as of today and streaming below — in its totality. It’s also the inaugural collection from the project filled out by Zach Weeks, Sai Boddupalli, and Alex Pickert.
Second single “Fair” romps about the stratosphere on a beamin’ guitar hook while Politoski mulls over a spiritual conundrum, and paints a pretty accurate portrait of what to expect from the other eight tracks. But the tune that really screams “radio hit” immediately precedes “Fair” on the record. Cantankerous pop-punk slammer “Stray” uses canine abandonment as an incisive metaphor for untangling human relationships. Who among us can’t easily identify with a half-depressing song with a dog in it? Later, “I Can Hear You Laugh” speaks, with appropriate bitterness, to the equally universal sensation of realizing a romantic interest isn’t as cool as the idealized version of that person who exists in your imagination.
But Void Ripper’s relatability falters at points …I think? I find the rhythmic and structural similarities between “Candace” and the old Metric song “Satellite Mind” distracting, although I can’t decide if that’s a legitimate criticism or my personal issue that won’t bother anybody else who hears the song. “Why?” verges on hokey, but “Lord of Pain” marks a more successful visit to Animal Flag’s quiet side. “Five” has a very confusing title considering it’s the ninth song ‘n all, but nevertheless summarizes its aforementioned with luminous guitars, celestial unease, and a fake out fade to black.
Void Ripper’s likely to go down as one of the better Boston rawk records of the year. Perhaps more importantly, it demonstrates that if any Hollywood executives are thinking about tapping Conor Oberst to write the theme for Deadpool 3 — or any project in that vein — they should save a pile of money and call Animal Flag instead.