Wild Flag's Self-Titled Debut: A First Listen

Categories: First Listens

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I don't know why I've been dreading this Wild Flag album exactly. Sleater-Kinney is one of my three favorite bands (the other two are Sonic Youth and the Dismemberment Plan, in case you're wondering), and as such I should trust Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss harder to carry a band that also includes the less impressive Mary Timony. It's just, well, Corin Tucker means a lot to me. And S-K was an unusually aspect-dependent band. All its parts balanced each other out and held each other up, powerfully yet also with an interesting fragility -- Tucker's rickety voice prone to sputtering into a pile of who-knows-what at any given moment. So: can they do it without her?

Romance
Circus-organ riff, blocky guitar-- this sounds exactly like Sleater-Kinney circa One Beat, but it's a little more airborne, with less heft. Is that a key change in the chorus? Tucker wouldn't have dared that. Score one for Timony's prog tendencies. The keyboards are filling out little corners, nice.

Something Came Over Me
"Well let me ask your advice/ If I fall once will I fall twice," sounds coy on paper and nervous in practice. This is a surprisingly sad-sounding riff, with stop-start drums reminiscent of something on Television's Marquee Moon. The guitar solo is nice and bent, and Timony again's got the big topper: a fantastic la-la-la hook responding to each of Brownstein's not-quite pissed verses.

Boom
This is fucking awesome. Think something from Sleater's knotty The Hot Rock, amped up with staccato Farfisa organ again. Brownstein sings about what "things go boom" and hiccups something about borrowing her motor. An entendre of some kind? Drummer Janet Weiss, whom I haven't mentioned yet, is in phenomenal form, especially on these breakdowns.

Glass Tambourine
All right, a sucky tune for perspective. Timony can color in the lines all she wants, but let's please not give her any lyric duties ("If you don't use it/ You're gonna lose it/ The black lullaby"). This is too long, too indulgent of all these ladies' wankiest psychedelic tendencies. I'd heard this one before, but honestly it sounds way better having absorbed all the stupid key changes and Hair-ready coda. This would've really benefitted from Dave Fridmann's searing production on The Woods -- with Corin Tucker ululating it into the abyss, of course.

Endless Talk
One of Carrie Brownstein's weaknesses is that her songs aren't really about shit; in the guise of Sleater-Kinney they appeared to have scene-breaking political context, or something. This nonsense song is fun, though -- did she just say "pass that green"? It's got a "Louie, Louie"/Nuggets feel and probably the catchiest chorus on here after "Romance." The organ's as hammy as ever.

Short Version
Brownstein's guitar is making cool strides toward something other than itself, in this case laser-guided Krautrock with perfectly executed zap effects. Her riffs are the only identifiers in these songs; most of the lyrics are hippie hiccups, and the choruses are just another shift from thing to thing, with Janet Weiss' typical Keith Moon bombs leading the way. Was the last Sleater-Kinney album really six years ago? Say this for Brownstein's rockism: thank god it's reliable. Say this for Corin's absence: there's a sane quality to this music that gives you the feeling that if it was possible to get emotionally attached to, it might not be as consistent.

Electric Band
This kinda sucks, which is just to say it's about as good as any lesser song in say, the second half of One Beat. "Come on and join our electric mind," yeah, whatever. Haven't these workhorses listened to anything after Blue Cheer in half a decade? Woo-hoo backing vocals give it a safe landing.

Future Crimes
Just when we needed another pounder, here comes a typical Weiss stomp right on time. But it's so thin, even with that razorlike organ line forming the best (wordless) chorus on the record. "No I can't turn it down or make it quiet!" asserts a not particularly defiant-sounding Brownstein. This almost sounds more like Sleater-Kinney than Sleater-Kinney. And also Spoon. Spoon's the only other band that rocks this tidy and controlled.

Racehorse
Seven minutes, bluesy, funky, and the most entertaining grab bag of words on the record rewards your investment: "I'm a racehorse/ You put your money on me," Brownstein sneers. "We're in the money," the band cheers back. When she switches to "you put your love on me," I hope her mocking intonation is just a rock 'n' roll affectation like everything else about her.

Black Tiles
Very thick, for some reason, as opposed to the fleet neatness of the rest. Weiss' drums actually thud, and you'll swear Brownstein's playing chords. Odd riff with weird breaks, kind of a Stephen Malkmus delivery on lines like "I see the snakes in your eyes." This was a very consistent record, but it's so lightweight I can't call it a great rock album. It's better than Them Crooked Vultures, though.

Wild Flag just doesn't have that kill-or-die desperation that Corin Tucker managed to choke up on Sleater-Kinney records (and also a bit on last year's solo 1,000 Years, which is a little better than this). And it doesn't sound romantic or sweet or angry or pissed. It just sounds professional. Normally not much of an achievement. But in the age of melting lo-fi and chillwave tracks exploding on the way to the microwave -- I'll take it. Now Brownstein's got me talking like a rockist.

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Alan Scherstuhl
Alan Scherstuhl

Wild Flag does sound pretty good on my first spin . . .  but, damn, I miss the flamethrower abandon of Corin Tucker. Her voice is like the back end of a dragster.

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