If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning (which I can only hope you have been, for continuity reasons), you may have noticed that there’s been a distinct lack of actual new music on it. This is sort of intentional: While I’ve actually liked 2011 quite a bit and have been making a conscious effort to listen to a lot of new stuff, I still think that something has been missing from current music. I’ve grown a bit jaded about how most of the hyped bands of the day all seem to chart the same influences, to be following the same basic formula, and constantly living in the past.
Enter Wild Flag, a four woman supergroup consisting of singer/guitarist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney, Mary Timony from Helium and a solo career, and Rebecca Cole of the Minders. Those names probably don’t mean a whole lot to many people reading this, but for me and many others its a dream collaboration, a veritable Traveling Wilburys of indie rock goddesses. From day one, the band has had a massive amount of hype and expectations from rabid Sleater-Kinney fans, the kind like me who think rock music has been circling the drain since the band went on indefinite hiatus in 2006 following their colossal swan song, “The Woods.”
The expectations for Wild Flag are expected, but also unfair. In reality, there’s no way the band could capture the unique chemistry and passion that defined Sleater-Kinney. However, their debut album, which is streaming on NPR, is nonetheless an immensely satisfying collection of tunes that fills many of the gaps left empty by today’s indie kids.
See, Wild Flag make rock music. Not “indie” rock or “noise” rock or whatever other lame qualifiers people seem to put in front of it now. This is fun, energetic rock music that is never boring, and in today’s musical climate that qualifies as a revelation. It doesn’t have the urgency of Sleater-Kinney or the dark combativeness of Helium; rather, it’s a pure, unpretentious showcase of everything that rock can offer from four women who know a lot about it.
A common knock on supergroups is that they’re more a collection of individuals than a cohesive band. Wild Flag defies that, as they’re instantly able to craft a unique sound that separates themselves from their previous bands. It’s a diverse collection of songs, from the almost power pop lead track and first single “Romance” to the woozy psychedelia of “Glass Tambourine”. Brownstein and Timony mostly trade vocals and harmonies, and each brings a different energy to each song.
While the hype around Wild Flag has mostly surrounded the Sleater-Kinney semi-reunion, it’s actually Timony who may be the band’s MVP. In the later days of Helium and the beginnings of her solo career, Timony flirted with being sort of an indie fantasy pixie girl, as she sang about magic and dragons and played quirky songs full of lush instrumentation. She doesn’t do that on Wild Flag (although she does sneak a “dragonslayer” reference into “Electric Band”), but her more laid back, mystical qualities make a nice foil for Brownstein’s hyperactive wildness. It’s illustrated on album closer “Black Tiles”, my favorite song so far, and the only one where they exchange lead vocals and put that duality on full display. Both are also tremendously gifted guitar players and are able to rip a lot of memorable riffs and solos in each song.
Of course, Wild Flag is also anchored by Weiss, who continues to prove that she’s arguably the best rock drummer in music today. I know absolutely nothing about drumming, but I can still tell that Weiss is really, really good at it, and she brings a ton of life to each song with her thunderous playing. Rebecca Cole (who I’m mostly unfamiliar with) also gives the songs some extra bounce with her keyboards, which add an extra dimension that the group’s previous bands didn’t have.
In the end, Wild Flag meets their lofty expectations and provides an absolute treat for Sleater-Kinney fans like me that were too busy failing at life to get into them before they went on hiatus. But beyond that, it’s possibly the most refreshing album of the year so far — a much needed shot of energy and life into the increasingly dull music landscape.