Lo-Fidelity All Stars featuring Pigeonhed: Battle Flag
ometimes, the perfect moment in pop has to happen within a particular context. Case in point: About half a year ago, I decided to visit my friend Paul, who lives out by the city of Oshawa. Since I don’t have a car, this involves taking the Greyhound to Toronto, walking to Union Station and catching a GO Train to Oshawa. This particular trip I had something to do in another part of Toronto (probably buying a CD or something), so when I got into town I took the subway. I wound up taking it back to Union Station as well.
Now, I had with me my tiny MP3 player with around 50 random MP3s, and just as I stepped off of the subway into the extremely crowded station this song came on. I know this remark will open me up to derision, but I have never felt like as much of a badass as I did striding through the packed crowds of Union Station with “Battle Flag” blaring on my headphones. And for once everyone got out of my way (so maybe I was walking differently).
What makes “Battle Flag” so great? Pigeonhed is the “soul” project of Shawn Smith from Brad and Seattle producer Steve Fisk, and the original version appears on their 1997 album The Full Sentence. At some point, then up-and-coming (and now totally forgotten) big beat sextet Lo-Fidelity All Stars heard the track, took the vocals, and fashioned a remix. I’ll admit to not having heard that version. But I’ll place good money on the responsibility of the Lo Fi’s for at least half of the greatness of this track.
Smith’s vocal is fine, slightly mocking and slightly menacing, not really saying much but sounding good, and the same is true of the spoken parts by one of the band (“I’ve gotta launder my karma”, eh?). It’s all the sort of thing that when written down sounds like absolute trash, but in context of the song, it’s genius.
And the song itself! Starting with slight synths, the awesome distorted synthetic bass soon crashes in at the same time of the clipped, echoing snares. I don’t know if the Lo Fi’s took elements that were already there and just funked them way up, or if things like the handclap drums and nagging guitar riffs are pure inventions, but it isn’t until 1:45 that the full genius of the song becomes apparent. Because that’s when the Daft Punk style extra bass/random distorted synth kicks in, and it’s just the icing on an extremely tasty cake. By the end when Smith is repeating “Come on baby tell me / Yes we aim to please” and the sunburst of organ shows up, you can only agree with him. “Battle Flag” is maximalist dancefloor genius, crafting a number of different elements that all hit various pleasure centers of your brain and then hammering them home relentlessly for six minutes.
Seeing as how the Lo Fi’s were essentially one-hit wonders (and I’m not even sure “Battle Flag” counts as a hit—I saw the video on MuchMusic once), I’ve never given in the temptation to pick up one of the used copies of How To Operate With A Blown Mind that litter the used record stores around here. But every so often “Battle Flag” will pop up on my Winamp playlist, and for six minutes this song is The Greatest Song Ever Created.