Ilad’s four members don’t really like to tell you much about themselves, despite having a blog on the band website. So without much background info, we’re left with the music itself, and that’s really what a review should focus on. The only problem is, when the music puts you to sleep, it’s hard to write about.
First, let me say that Ilad is an extremely talented band. And National Flags is a very well-produced album (recorded and mixed by Toirtoise’s John McEntire). My problem with National Flags is that, in essence, it feels like a jam band. This jazzy, esoteric band has some brilliant moments, but when these mostly five- to six-minute songs flow and meander along, I can’t help but think “jam band,” and my mind wants to shut off.
The five-minute nearly ambient “Preamble” is 4:30 too long. But it leads into the nice “D.O.I.,” which I swear keeps my attention for at least the first three minutes. I’ve lost attention by the end, though, and the horribly slow, quiet, airy “National Flags” does nothing to win it back. Three songs in, and this is where I typically stop listening, but for the sake of reviewing, I’ve forced myself to go on.
I’m rewarded nearly 3:30 into the title track with a wonderful up-tempo beat and some light keyboards that remind me of Tortoise for more than just McEntire’s hand at the boards. But it goes on and on, and “Someday” starts off so somber and mellow that I’m lost again. And as long as I wait, that song goes nowhere. I’m rewarded for persevering by the jazzy chaos of “Babel” that works so well because of its inherent chaos. It doesn’t go on for five minutes, thankfully, and “Looking Glass,” which follows, is the most up-beat and poppy track yet, even if the guitar reminds me of the jam band: Phish. I’m skipping over “You Don’t Need That Shit,” because I like some moments of “Subway’d,” I think because of the bassline, because this track is too slow and too long. “Holy Wars” is upbeat again, jazzy and flowing nicely, which works better for this band, and it’s only four minutes. I have yet to make it through the 10-minute album closer, “Preamble (Alt.),” but seeing as how I often don’t even make it through the album-opening “Preamble,” the fact that I’m here at all is quite a feat!
Maybe my problem with National Flags is that I don’t know how to describe it. I think of it as jazzy prog-rock. But at times, it’s nearly ambient, and maybe it succeeds on that level. At other times, it’s quiet poppy, but if you come in expecting that, you’re sure to be disappointed. There’s not enough changes, not enough emphasis to keep me listening through six-minute jammy songs, despite the moments of excellence. I’m sure some folks will love this album, but I can’t get beyond the feeling that this is just a talented jam band.