Let me begin by saying this release showed up in my mailbox rather unexpectedly. It was a busy time of the school year, and I tossed the package on my bed and started doing some homework at my computer. In between doing some school work, I figured I’d read up on this band, so I typed “Starflyer 59” into Wikipedia, which told me that the band is a Christian indie-rock band. I knew that couldn’t be right, so I typed in “Project 86,” which Wikipedia says is a Christian post-hardcore band. Not right either. I had finally had enough, so I grabbed the package on my bed to find out what the darn band’s name was. Ah yes, “Flatfoot 56.” As Wikipedia tells me: “A Christian punk rock / oi! band.“ Fair enough.
The Wikipedia entry goes on to say that “the group's use of Scottish highland bagpipes has led to their classification as a Celtic punk band, comparable to the Dropkick Murphys or the Real McKenzies” and was founded by brothers Tobin, Justin, and Kyle Bawinkel in 2000. Whether they are true blood Irishmen (I have no idea) is beyond the point; the fact is that this sound has been done before, done better, and upon first impressions, Flatfoot 56 doesn’t seem to be doing much more than providing a sterile, Christian alternative to the Cornerstone kids hungry for the sounds of the Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, or the Tossers. Outside of mewithoutYou, Five Iron Frenzy, and Pedro the Lion, I have yet to really be impressed at the creativity and pushing of the envelope of most self-proclaimed Christian bands.
Despite initial negativity, Flatfoot 56 has easily become one of my favorite Christian bands, if for nothing more than the energy and vigor in their music. While neither as intricate in their musicianship as the Tossers, as catchy as Flogging Molly, or as aggressive as Dropkick Murphys, their style of Celtic punk is still enjoyable. It's actually quite refreshing to hear a Celtic punk band not singing about alcohol every other song. The band has infinitely benefited by the addition of auxiliary member Josh Robieson who contributes both bagpipes and mandolin, and a second guitar to the ensemble.
The album opener “The Galley Slave” is one of the more interesting tracks on the album, with the tickling of mandolin notes layered on top of a slow clapping rhythm that sounds more like a sea chanty than an Irish jig. “Carry ‘Em Out” explodes through the speakers following “The Galley Slave” with gang vocals and ringing electric guitars, while the next track, “Loaded Gun” continues the energy, tossing in some spiffy bagpipe playing and the always relevant Christian proverb, “Turn the other cheek.” The only question I have is exactly what the message behind this song is. The words are nearly incomprehensible, and the promo didn’t come with a lyrics booklet, but I’m wondering how the chorus of “This is my loaded gun” relates to the band’s Christian message. There is so much a Christian band could do lyrically with working class music, but they haven’t seemed to have harnessed that opportunity yet. “Hoity Toity” is one of the standouts on Jungle of the Midwest Sea, with wonderful mandolin playing and a well-designed song structure. Chicago legend T. Duggins of the Tossers even contributes vocals to the album’s title track, a punk-heavy jig that goes about a minute and a half too long.
There’s no doubt that Flatfoot 56 is riding the coattails of popular acts like Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, much like the Supertones rode the ska wave, and P.O.D. piled onto the rap-metal bandwagon. Their only niche is that they’re a Christian band and can cater to the evangelical crowd. I am not providing these critiques simply to be a jerk, but this band is talented enough that they could be finding success in music, and not just in Christian music. That said, their energetic songs, talented musicianship and songwriting, and passionate delivery cannot be dismissed. When it comes to Christian music, I’ll take Flatfoot 56 over trendy junk like Underoath or Emery any day.