There are a lot of reasons to love Aaron Berkson’s band, the Flow. They’re unabashedly proud of their mission to create pop music that is beautiful and fun. Their musical formula is to combine as many diverse elements as they can into one group and let the pieces fall in as many different directions as the wind blows. And, most impressively, these kids are doing it all for themselves, by themselves.
Unfortunately, this is also a reason to love an uncountable number of other bands. For all their uniqueness, the Flow are standing tightly packed in a crowded room. Indie pop covers a broad spectrum of bands that haven’t been snatched up by major labels and repackaged as corporate product. Of these acts, if you narrow the musical focus by limiting it to groups that blend pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz, and traces of folk into a musical mélange, then you’ve thinned out the numbers a bit, but not nearly enough to clearly stand out. Proto-hippie, quasi-funk philosophy might narrow the field a little further, but any given college has a dozen jam bands waiting to emerge from the wings. Worst of all, the Flow have adopted a moniker that is not only unmemorable for its everyday place in popular lingo, but it’s been used a few times by other artists in the past.
All of these things should conspire to keep the Flow hidden in obscurity. And yet, through their admirable DIY tenacity, Berkson and crew have managed to get their songs promoted on radio stations across the country, culminating in charting at #16 on CMJ’s Top 20 Most Added chart. So there must be something worth taking notice of in this textbook example of an Everyband. Right?
If the current success of the Flow can be attributed to anything, it is most certainly Berkson himself. As frontman and primary songwriter for the band, Berkson is the heart and soul of the Flow, and his vision of music anchors the band. His distinctively sweet (and young) voice give the songs their sugar-coated pop feel even when the music dips into electronic and hip-hop territories. However, while Berkson is definitely center stage, the Flow is a proper band, one that keeps the music interesting by incorporating a percussionist, a scratch DJ, occasional strings and a human beatbox into the traditional guitar-bass-drum triumvirate.
On a song-by-song basis, however, the thin edges begin to show. The lead-off track and first single, “Disposable Hero”, is pretty much a standard radio song, catchy but not incredibly innovative. Sounding very much like Sonia Dada or Citizen King or the Ugly Americans, it’s perfect for the AAA and AC radio formats. It’s also rather misleading in terms of the rest of the album. In fact, a part of the charm, and the difficulty, with the Flow is that they never stay in one place musically. To their credit, the Flow are unafraid to jump around from style to style, mood to mood, and they handle each with the same skill and precision time and time again. To their detriment, it makes this album difficult to listen to unless you’re feeling particularly schizophrenic.
For example, immediately following “Disposable Hero” is “Dada Dada”, a bouncy funk song that highlight’s DP1’s skills on the turntables, which is in turn followed by “Grey”, a song that melds a low acoustic G. Love and Special Sauce sound with some quasi-Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms, peppered with a string accompaniment. Not too distant, you say? Then check out the Celtic march of “Blue Helmets”, or “Take Me Away (Péyrèbère)”, which finds Berkson doing a dead-on vocal and musical imitation of James Taylor then sliding deftly into a Freedy Johnston thing, or the African percussion and chant of “O Li Lé”.
Rather than the blender effect of world music and pop that acts like the Dave Matthews Band revel in, the Flow opt for a song by song hopscotch around the musical world. As such, the collected songs don’t really hang well together and Dada is a difficult album to really get into as a whole listening experience. That’s a shame, really, because it’s hard not to want to enjoy the Flow. Berkson and crew are fun and technically skilled, but perhaps a few more years of getting into their own sound, rather than skipping around through the sounds of others, will give them the right combination to really sizzle and not to get lost in the crowd.
// Notes from the Road
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