What’s the old idiom, you can’t fault me for trying? If Filligar were a warship, that would be its motto, emblazoned on the hardwood exterior in beige lettering and red outlining. Thirteen years later, the Chicago collective of Casey Gibson, Johnny Mathias, Pete Mathias, and Teddy Mathias keep on keepin’ on, collecting enough accolades here and there to keep the garage door wedged open. On their ninth album, Hexagon, the Midwestern boys stick to their dusty Springsteen LPs, pull from a case of American beer, and gaze out at dried up cornfields to craft another soulful, straight up rock ‘n’ roll record.
It’s not exactly wise to keep writing and recording the same thing, expecting different results. (The word “insanity” comes to mind, actually.) But that’s what Filligar has done time after time again. They know what they want, realize what they can do, and clearly don’t give a shit if it’s going to make them a mid-tier headliner or the next Kings of Leon. Soulful squeezes like “New Local”, town square jamborees realized on “Knock Yourself Out”, or bar room peanut stompers a la “Money on a Dark Horse” could have come from The Gaslight Anthem, Cold War Kids, or any other brand from Tennessee. These aren’t spellbinding rockers, and they’re hardly as memorable as any hit single from the acts already named here. But they’re enjoyable.
This is a harmless album from a harmless band that’s received harmless press. That’s likely the reason they were handpicked by the US State Department this past June to perform in the Middle East, where they represented the “Best of the US Arts Community”. That’s just the thing, there’s no edge and nothing provocative about them. In fact, the closest thing to surface that’s even remotely controversial on Hexagon is the title to one of their tracks, “Culture Bleach”, which isn’t the rallying Generation X anthem it implies but rather the result to what happens when Anthony Kiedis fronts Delta Spirit.
But, here’s a question that goes far beyond Filligar: What does a band do if they just want to create rock ‘n’ roll? What if they’re not as inspired as Bradford Cox to recontexualize three decades’ worth of rock? Who’s to say they don’t feel adventurous? Maybe Gibson and Mathias, Inc. are okay with knowing that Bob Dylan said everything that can be said of America, or that Neil Young’s soaked all the beauty out of cynicism, or that The Boss gassed up the genre’s last motorcycle decades back. Rock doesn’t need to be something new, or something old, or anything at all. It’s about feeling good, letting it all hang, and finding a way to put it all back.
Not saying Filligar does that on every track here — some are just exercises in repetition (“Ozona”) or too uninteresting for its length (“Atlas”) — but their sheer will at maintaining a perfect balance between trying and cruising keeps them as both the guys next door and the folks repping us overseas. Can’t fault ’em for trying.
Essential Tracks: “Pacific Time”, “El Trepador”