Forward Arch: Fort Knox Five has a progressive notion of D.C.

Fort Knox Five wants to convince you that D.C. is a swinging town—or at least a little more swinging than you’ve given it credit for. On its debut full-length, Radio Free DC, the District production team uses soul samples, horn breaks, and diverse set of grooves to depict their hometown as the setting for a spy film scored by Gilberto Gil and Marvin Gaye. It’s a party record where dancehall and baile funk make nice with go-go and punk rock, and if you close your eyes real tight, its best moments can make you feel like the District genuinely is that kind of melting pot. Over the last several years the members of Fort Knox Five have made their name by remixing artists who are prestigious (Tito Puente), legendary (Bob Marley), or not much of either (Torpedo Boyz); they’ve palled around with local peers Theivery Corporation and toured with Gwen Stefani. On Radio Free DC, they use that expertise to meld horn hits, wobbling rave bass, and chattering Latin percussion into a funky pastiche of D.C. musical history. A few local luminaries even drop in for guest vocals, including one particularly surreal appearance by Ian Svenonious, whose trademark disaffected drawl sounds positively bizarre couched in music that basically speaks the same sonic language as Fergie. That’s the problem: While the album doesn’t lack sophistication, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to hear some of its songs blasting out of coconut-shaped speakers at Dewey Beach. If Fort Knox Five want to “incite, inspire, and unite a generation to Funk 4 Peace,” as they say in the press release for the album, then it’s going to take a little more than the jam-band-activist-style verses that the song delivers: “The feeling that you get feel the release/That’s what you get when you’re funkin’ for peace.” Their breadth of musical interests isn’t always an asset: Fort Knox Five never met a sub-equatorial genre it didn’t want to sample, which makes the disc often sound like a 100-meter dash through the Putumayo catalog. They can write a pretty good dancehall track (“Killa Soundboy”), and a pretty good funk track (“Uptown Tricks”), and do a pretty good take on Brazilian rhythm (“Sao Funky [Parts 1 & 2]”). But the genre-hopping obscures the group’s identity. While Fort Knox Five make a noble effort to incorporate all things D.C., it too often sounds like a mishmash of all things, period.