No Enemies (stylized as NOENEMIES) is an album that tries really hard. It tries REALLY really hard. You can tell that the members of the Flobots wanted to create an all-encompassing, hard-hitting, amazingly timely protest album that deftly brings up and grapples with injustices of the day.
However, for how hard they try, there are moments where No Enemies simply falls apart. The album tries to talk about so many different things and protest against so many current aspects of American life and bring so many different things to light that occasionally, it suffers and crushes itself under all that weight.
Flobots definitely want the one word used to describe No Enemies to be “thought-provoking.” The lyrics are a veritable cornucopia of references, going from “Strange Fruit” to the Challenger explosion to Deathstroke the Terminator, all in a rapid-fire delivery. You’re going to need repeated readings of the album’s Rap Genius entry to even get half of what the Flobots are trying to say here. The lyrics are dense and the lyrics are tough. Subjects ranging from how to grapple with the racism of one’s ancestors to attacking the fear-mongering media. Even the lighter songs are still a lyrical masterpiece. Songs like “Carousel” take a generic ‘wow it sure is hard to be in the rap game’ approach and push it into something more in-depth and something more profound.
Unfortunately for me, if I were to describe the album in a word, it would be “loud.” The overall sound design of the album is just overpoweringly loud and so pressingly heavy that I couldn’t listen to it all in one sitting: I had to pause halfway through just to keep myself from developing a headache. The lyrics are very insightful and I definitely want to go over them with a fine-toothed comb later but the problem is that it’s hard to hear and hard to concentrate on them with all the noise. This is most definitely a deliberate choice: the loudness and harshness of Flobots’ sound jives perfectly with the harsh, uncompromising stance the lyrics take. I just wish that it could have been realized better or at least realized in a more even keel with the lyrics.
The album is also fairly uneven. Songs like “Blood in the River” attempt a hard/soft dichotomy with the sound levels which unfortunately comes off as loud/less loud. The album features multiple preludes and interludes, small little pieces under a minute. They help ease people into the album and separate lighter songs from heavier songs: I’m eternally thankful that the album gave us a minute or so of fluff before launching into the sonically schizophrenic and downright bizarre (yet kind of amazing) “Failure Games.” Likewise, “Antioch (Interlude)” prevents any whiplash that might have happened if the album went straight from the lighter and more popish “Dancing in the Light of a Burning City (Phoenixes)” to the dark, loud, and downright oppressive force of nature that is “Pray.” Still, the fact that the album includes the interludes in the first place makes me wonder just how much thought went into the arrangement of the track list.
I’ve got to respect the Flobots for what they’re trying to do. No Enemies is a gutsy album, a protest album that tries to grapple with a lot of tough subjects and attempts to explore them in a thoughtful manner. But sonically, the album is far too oppressive, the mixing is a bit confusing, and the tracklist is very uneven. It’s definitely impressive and definitely something that I’m glad now exists within the music world: it’s simply just not for me.