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Album Review: Flagman's Tastes Incredible Announces Nu Metal's New Court Jesters

Orlando’s Flagman are arriving into a nu metal present where--despite the presence of some genuine freaks on leashes--most of the scene is still either shaking off a long metalcore hangover or trying to figure out how they can be Deftones too.

"I don't trust him, Mr. Frodo."

There was a stretch of time from, say, the 60s to the 90s, when it was an honor to be the weirdest band in a scene. This is not to say that everyone was fighting for that crown in those years—more that there was a special place reserved at the side of the rock throne for the Fool, and if they had something to say, everyone would stop and listen. It was generally understood that this was a key role in popular music, one that both fueled the form’s travelling lane with chaos energy and kept it honest; for every movement in pop that threatened to venture too far up its own ass, there was someone right there to comment on the scenery. You had your Zeppelins, and you had your Zappa; your Guns and Roses and your Faith No More; your Pearl Jam and your sock-abusing Red Hot Chili Peppers. On some level, Big Fool Energy is a genre-starter, reacting to what's going on on the big stages and making a show of undressing it in front of everyone. This is what drove alternative rock from the 80s underground to the top of the charts in the 90s, and it’s arguably how you get nu metal at all—that sort of “What if we rocked, but like this” impulse, driven as much by class clown glee as by unbridled creativity.

Orlando’s Flagman are arriving into a nu metal present where--despite the presence of some genuine freaks on leashes--most of the scene is still either shaking off a long metalcore hangover or trying to figure out how they can be Deftones too. Don’t get me wrong—metalcore happened for a reason, and Deftones are fucking Deftones--but neither of those are gonna play the Roadrunner to this culture’s Wile E. Coyote, and that fucker is running up a bill at Acme as we speak. It’s been a few too many cycles now where bands in the genre have seemed to operate on the sole imperative to go hard as hell, and in doing so have forgotten that it's just as essential to fuck with the normies too.

Tastes Incredible, Flagman's third long-player, sets the table with "Breakfast", a warbling, slightly tilted instrumental that, with its wistful slack-key vibes, evokes nothing so much as a VHS-era commercial for a tropical beach resort. It’s the first of a trio of instrumentals that, along with “Lunch” and “Dinner”, frame the record as a kind of commentary on the gap between the things our culture considers fundamental and how we actually provide for them. After all, what symbolizes good living better than chill vibes and three squares a day? But one look at the cover art and you feel the joke Flagman are teeing up: Remember, kids, you are what you eat--now come get your soggy machine-packed protein flap. The way “Dinner” closes out the record like a band repeatedly trying to play the Star-Spangled Banner and unable to get past the first two notes without completely freaking out finishes the story “Breakfast” begins; things are rotten in Americamark, but hey--the packaging is still pretty nice! Remember when we used to believe it?

It’s a dense set of signifiers for a record this playful, and sets up Flagman as a band invested in 90s alt-rock's conflicted yen for the credulous detritus of boomer commercial culture. But it would be a mistake to think this band is serving up some grad school discourse on the rot of capitalism—leave that shit to Radiohead. “Hot Off The Log”, the album-opener proper, announces Flagman as funk metal goofballs whose twin beacons are Primus and System of a Down, taking from the former an irony-laced veneer hiding an instrumental SWAT team and from the latter a bug-eyed and yapping social conscience too committed to stay in its seat. With an opening bass lick that sounds like someone electrocuting a basketball, the track swings from panic-attack verses to a cooing chorus, a sort of call and response between how it actually feels to be in the world and the soothing social message to tamp it all down and enjoy what you have. “Let’s all act ordinary/ignore coal mine canaries”, the culture croons. “Fumes hot off the log, a lovely fragrance! Doom, impending doom!” your soul screams back.

Tastes Incredible is both wildly creative and remarkably consistent across its incredibly short-feeling 25 minutes, each track managing to alchemically transform that sense of impending social collapse into jittery, relentless alt-metal while landing as a series of completely unique moments. The credit for this goes to the entire band: Grant Freeman’s drums have a snapping urgency to them like they’re scrambling just ahead of the beat, giving the songs the feeling of chasing themselves, while Cody Singleton’s find little pockets of space to punch into like a staple-gun or drag through like nails down a chalkboard, as though his goal is as much to foley the songs as it is to play them. But it’s frontman Sam Stewart’s bass that yanks the spotlight again and again. Channeling the protean Les Claypool, Stewart jangles his way around and through these songs, his bass as much a toy he’s messing around with as it is an instrument he’s pushing to its limit. As a vocalist, he manages to bend his tensile instrument in surprising ways, his manic speak-singing, silly voices, and liberally deployed outbursts giving these songs the impression of coming from a set of gonzo personalities he’s shuffled like cards and dealt out across the record. “Champagne and Roses” brings in a clear Tom Waits influence, with Stewart barking his character’s hangdog story between the closing funhouse walls of the band’s instrumental attack, while on album highlight “Bombs Away”, Stewart cuts more of a Tankian figure, babbling shit like “Raise your hands and praise the lord/Now spank my ass and cut the cord”.

Meanwhile, the pace is breakneck, angular, and stop-start throughout—the rhythms of a kindergarten game designed to wear the little fuckers out before pickup. Except we’re grownups now, and what once was the feeling of a game played to the wall now just feels like a nervous breakdown. In truth, Tastes Incredible is essentially funky Chat Pile, unfiltered little eruptions not so much about how fucked up the world is as because. The way Flagman don’t so much bounce as vibrate between the valences of the funny kind of mania and the scary kind is maybe what most makes this record a product of 2024 rather than 1994; We’ve had 30 more years to see how fucking boring evil can be, and by this point, skewering it properly means you’re going to break a hell of a sweat. Ironic distance implies the luxury of some actual distance; Flagman are right in the thick of it with the rest of us, and we’re lucky to have them. At least we’ll have some fun while it all goes to shit.

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