Anti-Flag - 20/20 Vision (Cover Artwork)


20/20 Vision (2020)

Spinefarm Records

It’s hard to believe Anti-Flag, all on the verge of their late 40s, are approaching their 30th year as a band. I think you would find many hard pressed to say in the early 2000s, we would find ourselves on the precipice of a 2020 election with a new and timely Anti-Flag record. It speaks to the success of the band as not only a source of entertainment for thousands across different generations, but an ongoing organizing vehicle for leftist politics that provides people an on-ramp where they might not have had one. I know this because this was me at 13 when I first saw the band.

I recently made the point to a friend that the evolution of my own politics discarded Anti-Flag’s sloganeering and simplistic analysis in my mid-20s for a supposedly more nuanced analysis to only find myself returning to Anti-Flag’s Fuck the System simplicity in my 30s with the election of Donald Trump. Trump is just one symptom of a broken fucking system that will never provide a path to liberation, a point Anti-Flag also make. While American Spring was released during the Trump administration, 20/20 Vision is a record infected with the Trump presidency and the hells that have followed. In interviews, Anti-Flag have noted that this is one of the first times they have made a statement piece about any politician because they felt obligated to address it calling this moment a real ‘Who’s side are you on?’ moment.

In fact, Anti-Flag call that very question on the title track to 20/20 Vision with #2 singing “Tell me which side are you on / Carry on, carry on, carry on” during the chorus. “It Went Off Like A Bomb” lays out the stakes clearly with Justin Sane snarling “Dog whistles endlessly / Storm troopers in the wings / Gin up the devotees / Certain they’re under siege.” Later on in the album during “You Make Me Sick,” #2 addresses the all suffocating nature of the Trump presidency pleading “There’s a cancer in the room / And it ain’t going nowhere” before resolving that everything that piece of shit does makes him sick. While Trump is rarely mentioned by name, just like the sentiment in “You Make Me Sick,” his presence hangs over the album and can’t be escaped. References to kids in cages, Big Pharma, eco-disaster, and the othering of the poor are all within.

Musically, 20/20 Vision finds the band alternating from anthemic rock songs to Clash-inspired pop songs to by the books Anti-Flag ragers with a surprising diversity on the b-side to keep it fresh. “Hate Conquers All,” “Unbreakable,” and particularly “The Disease” are all stadium stompers sure to play well on large festival stages across the globe. “The Disease” experiments with some industrial and electronic sounds in the bridge that culminate in a wailing solo and final chorus. One of the more interesting aspects of this album are the more experimental songs, particularly closers “Un-American” and “Resistance Frequencies.” The former with alt-country and folk rock vibes and the ladder a not quite ska-inflected tune with horns and bouncy bass centering it. These musical risks work because of the production nuances per song, which I at first found a tad polarizing but eventually reconciled by the end of the record. The production style brings different soundscapes to each track while still making it feel like you’re in the garage listening.

As mentioned before, Anti-Flag is not just a punk rock band, but an organizing vehicle and the liner notes carry on the long tradition of punk bands highlighting social justice literature. Articles from Jeremy Scahill and Robert Reich, book recommendations with topics ranging from feminism to socialism to prison abolition, ruminations from Sane, and links to get involved in organizing spaces. It's great to see the band take the time to do this. 

All of this is why I believe 20/20 Vision succeeds as a record. As a band that comes about as close to touching the mainstream as you can get, there will be kids who stumble upon this album strictly because of the artwork of a crossed out Trump. This album holds together the foundation of Anti-Flag while still pushing forward sonically creating enough interesting moments to capture new audiences and satisfy older ones. If any organizing entity is going to be successful, it needs to hold a coalition together and for 30 years, Anti-Flag have just done that.