written by Chris Familton
Carrie Brownstein has become something of an indie superstar in recent years with her commentaries on NPR, the TV series Portlandia that she co-wrote and stars in and of course her history in the righteous rock band Sleater Kinney. Now she has re-emerged musically in Wild Flag, a four piece that also includes Mary Timony (ex-Helium), Rebecca Cole and Sleater Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. Their debut album takes that raw and confrontational sound of Sleater Kinney and marries it with more melodic songwriting in places, garage rock flavours and a wonderful balance of both fun and serious rock n roll.
The first single Romance opens the LP and is a statement of intent with its tumbling drums and off-kilter guitar lines that surge and stumble gloriously before a heady and triumphant chorus soars high . It is probably the closest to Brownstein’s previous work than anything else on the album and it works effectively as the stepping off point for the new project.
Mary Timony takes lead on the much softer and melodically subtle Something Came Over Me showing a different side to the Wild Flag. Her voice is more indie pop than indie rock without sacrificing the tough garage rock vibe that runs through the record. That vibe is enhanced by the magnificent production quality – all warm closeness, clarity of instrumental separation and a lack of processing and overt compression to the sound of the album. The way they have constructed songs that allow each instrument to both harmonise and contradict each other is a constant source of delight. It keeps the songs alive and evolving with a rough and ready fluidity that constantly throws up sonic surprises like the chop and change dynamics of album closer Black Tiles.
One of the closest links to the garage rock vein is the sound of Rebecca Cole’s keyboards, primarily the swirling organ she often employs. It adds a contrast to the sharp-riffing guitars and often replaces the bottom end where bass guitar would normally reside. On Endless Talk she leads the dancing melody of the song, taking it in the vicinity of some of the sounds that were emitting from Dunedin, New Zealand across the 80s.
Simplicity is another key to the success of this debut. Electric Band relies on super primitive drumming to propel Timony’s delightful ode to playing in a rock band. The same approach is taken on Future Crimes but it is injected with an urgency that makes it feel like it is about to collapse in on itself at any moment. Like all great garage and punk rock songs it has that surge and insistency that heats the blood and quickens the pulse. Wild Flag sound like they are on the front foot, holding nothing back and relishing the chance to play dynamic, lively music together. This isn’t stupid, basic rock music, far from it. It is intelligent, lean and energising rock n roll.
this review first appeared on The Dwarf