In the wake of the political correctness push, we all know it; stereotyping is bad, in music as much as elsewhere. And so, when handed music I am unfamiliar with, I make a concentrated effort not to do any kind of research it prior to listening. First and foremost, I want the music to speak for itself. (Post listen is a different story.) I want to judge it on its qualities (or lack thereof) and the reactions they elicit in me, rather than the image the band projects, or what other supposed ‘taste-makers’ think. I would like to think of this as a rather open-minded approach, but sometimes, it merely confirms the stereotypical trappings of a genre.
As is the case with Flyleaf, and their newest release, an EP entitled Who We Are. Less an actual EP, more a single with a few live tracks tagged on for good measure, the collection offers everything you might expect from a female fronted, radio friendly rock band. Well, everything you might expect from a female fronted, Christian, radio friendly rock band.
Like all bands trying to distance themselves from the commercially murderous “Christian” qualifier, Flyleaf claim to be less a ‘Christian’ band, than merely a band comprised of Christian musicians. They do admit, though, that their faith comes out in their work. Unlike every other Christian-but-not-Christian band that says the same thing, you can almost believe this one, listening to the EP.
The only new song, “Something Better” is not religious, as much as it is just positive, which stands out more that anything. Sonically, it’s the type of heavy rock that appeals mostly to young, (stereotypically) lower class adolescents of both genders. Full of clichés strung together in an attempt to reach at some greater depth, it is angsty without direction, echoing the confusion and emotional roller coasters of middle school. Chugging rhythms, crunchy guitars, crashing cymbals and wailing vocals create a cacophonous wall of sound that only sounds welcome to those currently enrolled in 7th grade.
But what initially struck me, both with “Something Better” and the live tracks, was the total lack of violence, neither lyrically, either implied or expressly stated, nor musically, common in the genre. Boring, sure, clichéd, yes, but by delivering an inescapably positive message, it seemed as if they were doing something unique. This was before I knew it was ‘Christian.’
On this collection, not until “Sorrow” does the ‘faith based influence’ come through. “Soon he will perforate the fabric of the peaceful by and by” was just another one of those immature nonsensicals that proliferate as the album plays, until “he” becomes “He,” explaining both the line and the uplifting tone. (And, stereotypically, the blandness.)
Even without the association of religion, Who We Are is not a particularly strong offering; the live tracks may satisfy current followers (no pun intended) but aren’t going to win new fans, and the single doesn’t have much power outside of the target audience. If, as the title suggests, this is a declaration of the band’s identity, then there’s nothing to be gained by investigating further. However, Flyleaf does succeed as a stereotypical, upbeat, Christian heavy rock band that’s not so damn, well, Christian.