It’s an election year in the United States, arguably the most divisive election year in the country’s history, if not ever. I (and many others) predicted we’d see a glut of politically motivated punk rock after the results of the 2016 election in the States and true to form that’s what we’ve gotten. At the same time, there’s been plenty of punk that hasn’t delved into that quagmire. However, it’s 2020 and Anti-Flag are back with a fire-breathing banger in 20/20 Vision.
The surprising thing about this album is that it is filled with relatively mid-tempo, for this band anyway, diatribes against the current state of affairs and calls to action. There are also some interesting touches and embellishments that veer slightly askance of the typical Anti-Flag sound. On album opener, “Hate Conquers All”, we hear a breakdown towards the tail end of the song that calls to mind fellow political punks, Refused. Then you have a track like “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down” that sees its lineage directly tied to that of the Clash. There’s even a guitar solo on “The Disease” that might conjure memories of some of Social Distortion’s heavier efforts. In the strangest of timelines, which most acknowledge we are currently living in, “You Make Me Sick” could very well be a sleeper hit song with it’s more acidic take on All-American Rejects bitterness.
The album hits its stride best when the band delivers it’s catchiest takes on their normal style. Title track, “2020 Vision”, alongside “Christian Nationalist” and “Unbreakable”, gives us arguably the most memorable chunk of this album. All three are bound to get audiences bouncing and chanting along on the way to whatever protest is going on this week. “Christian Nationalist” borrows heavily from the kind of singalongs that invoke memories of the best of Dropkick Murphys while also verging on American Idiot-era Green Day hooks. It’s this section, though, in the first third of the album that sets us up for what turns out to be a thoroughly consistent and memorable collection of songs with a high replay value.
That said, there isn’t anything here that isn’t somewhat predictable. It’s high quality, anthemic politically-focused punk rock but that’s exactly what we expect at this point from Anti-Flag. There are tons of bands who are stretching the limits of the form as I’ve chronicled, several times over, in this space during the last couple of years. This Pittsburgh-based quartet, though, fall well within range of bands who are experts at the style they’ve created for themselves and, realistically, have little necessity to change too dramatically.
Though, musically, there might not be too much to change in a formula that clearly works for them and their fans, the shift that the band wants to see is in the streets. “A Nation Sleeps” bristles with the kind of urgency that they are trying to convey to listeners and actually serves as the hardest kick to the gut on the entirety of the album. That the band dial it back on the acoustic-driven “Un-American” is somewhat surprising but it allows the lyrics to take the stage where, again, the message is by far the most important element of any of their songs. “Resistance Frequencies” kicks off with a horn flourish reminiscent of Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties’ “Runnin’ Towards the Light” before settling into its mid-period Rancid (loosely) reggae-influenced groove but having this pair of ultra-catchy songs tie off the album’s loose ends feels fitting.
At this point in the band’s career, they aren’t looking to radically redefine their sound or style. Their main goal is still to incite people to action and that goal is front and center throughout the proceedings of 20/20 Vision. There’s more than enough fight, fury, indignation, and memorable melodies to make this one a repeat player especially if you want to get fired up about creating some change this year. In the bleak days, weeks, and months behind us and still ahead before November, Anti-Flag are offering the lighter for the torches. Now, it’s up to us to answer that call.
20/20 Vision is available now and can be purchased here.