Wild Flag is not a gang of crotchthrusting hard rockers from the 1970s. At least, not until track No. 7.
“Come meet me and we’ll go for a ride in your mind,” sings Mary Timony over a sweltering, sexed-up riff on “Electric Band,” one of several cocky cuts from the band’s debut full-length.
The record represents the astonishing confluence of four varied talents—Sleater-Kinney vets Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, Helium and Soft Power leader (and D.C. resident) Mary Timony, and The Minders’ Rebecca Cole. While all of them have collaborated in various bands over the years, Wild Flag is probably going to surprise the hell out of riot grrrls who haven’t been paying close attention.
Sleater-Kinney’s heavy final album, 2005’s The Woods, is a fairly direct predecessor to Wild Flag: After a couple dips in the hard-rock pool, Sleater-Kinney finally took the plunge—and then disbanded. Anyone down with Helium’s elvish, foggy-mountain vibe on The Magic City, the band’s 1997 career highpoint, already knew Mary Timony had a firm grip on proggy chamber-pop. And The Minders were tight and bright—right at home on quirky Elephant 6 ’til the very end. Wild Flag is an extremely well-crafted, satisfying culmination of all three bands’ final albums.
But this project is uninterested in recreating, say, the wiry anger of Sleater-Kinney’s Call the Doctor, or Helium’s early monotone apathy. Many listeners whose lives were changed by Sleater-Kinney in the 1990s—I’m one of them—may find their minds bursting open once again. But this time, it’ll be because of a couple kick-ass guitar solos.
Opener “Romance,” the album’s single, rollicks, shreds, and explodes in several places at once, but gels via its perfect, earwormy refrains. It’s going to be a formidable competitor on indie-rock journalists’ year-end lists; on first listen, it threatens to set a too-high bar for the rest of the album.
But Wild Flag cracks open a whole chest of gleaming gold nuggets. Among them: Timony’s proggy riff on “Short Version”; Timony and Brownstein’s acid-rock guitar duel on “Glass Tambourine”; Brownstein’s brassy yelps on “Racehorse” (“I’m a racehorse/Yeah, I’m a racehorse/You put your money on me”); and every thrilling moment of Weiss’ airtight, full-throttle drumming, whose power might make you yearn for those Helmet albums you sold to CD/Game Exchange. With its hawkish sound, Wild Flag’s record could have you reconsidering your empathy for toothless subgenres like twee pop, chillwave, and/or anything that isn’t Deep Purple in Rock.
In a way, Wild Flag has made an unintellectual album, but in an indie-music market saturated with lazy microtrends, it’s refreshingly visceral. While some songs meander into psych-rock obliqueness—hat tip to Timony—this is not the stuff of a critical theory seminar. The lyrics vacillate between cool come-ons and hungry, lovesick pleas, often mellowed with pretty oohs and la-la-las. “Electric Band,” slow and muscular, should be Timony’s ring entrance song—or, it should be retroactively added to the Dazed and Confused soundtrack. For fans of Brownstein’s old band, there’s a dollop of spidery Sleater-Kinney tunesmithing, too, except it’s played better—or is it just louder?
Even love songs are delivered with proper urgency. “I want you here, now/I want you here, now/I want you here now/I want you here, right now!” pleads Timony on “Something Came Over Me.” “Boom,” meanwhile, has simple, rock ‘n’ roll swagger: “One, two, three, four/I like the way you move around the floor...five, six, seven, eight/I like the way you make me stay up late.”
Brownstein takes the vocal lead on about half the tracks, channeling Ric Ocasek, Joey Ramone, Chrissie Hynde, and sometimes the emotive sting of Guy Picciotto—but fans know she’s never been a great singer. She doesn’t nail notes, instead hiccuping and shouting in their direction. Timony, for her part, has often sung unadventurously, and she does mostly the same with Wild Flag. But who cares—this ain’t a night at the opera.
Perhaps the most divisive track on the album is “Glass Tambourine,” which wanders beyond the looking glass into some seriously damaged Blue Cheer territory. When that single debuted on NPR earlier this year, fans’ reactions were mixed, probably because few expected an all-out dragon quest. But those people were barking up the wrong tree. Wild Flag has gathered all the kindling from its members’ long careers in rock, and set it magnificently aflame.
Young People’s Church of the Air Deleted Scenes Sockets
A little less surprising is the latest from D.C./New York band Deleted Scenes. Young People’s Church of the Air sprouts from the over-cultivated soils of D.C. post-hardcore, but is just as indebted to Brooklyn’s ongoing infatuation with affected peacoat rock. The release doesn’t always sound fresh, but it does take a couple interesting chances.
Deleted Scenes likes to screw with rhythm and instrumentation. “Ordination Day” is a quirky but elegant track about consecration; it teases religion (“Make your father say/’Look at that fucker pray!’”) as much as it teases straight-ahead indie-rock idioms. “Baltika 9” starts out like a carefree Beach Boys singalong crossed with the punch of Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” From there, it warps into the controlled chaos of a memorable Dismemberment Plan show, circa 2001.
But sometimes, Deleted Scenes would be better off with less. Take “A Bunch of People Who Love You Like Crazy.” The UK grime dirge! The smash-boom trip-hop thing! Where’d the song go? Oh, I think I hear vocalist Dan Scheuerman—he’s somewhere in the back, singing into a tin can.
Elsewhere, The Walkmen show up and steal everyone’s instruments. “The Demon and the Hurricane” (does the song title give it away?) inhabits that salty aired, creaky home on Martha’s Vineyard that Hamilton Leithauser & Co. have shacked up in for so long. Deleted Scenes builds a lot of atmosphere on “A Litany For Mrs. T.,” too, but that track sounds more exorcised than haunted. So, too, does the album’s first single “Bedbedbedbedbed,” a kind of unpoetic (“Your eyes do a thing where they talk”) but pretty ode to Scheuerman’s true love that reproduces those pillowy moments passed down from the 4AD label’s 1980s roster. It also falls closer to Deleted Scenes’ 2009 debut album Birdseed Shirt, which was exceptionally well-crafted but less imaginative than this album’s strange, intriguing peaks.
Deleted Scenes’ experimentalism pays off with “The Days of Adderall,” a plucky, dreamy piece that pushes a cluster of pleasurable little buttons. Same goes for the first couple minutes of “English as a Second Language,” a bedroom pop-funk kiddie jam that belies its regretful lyrics. “Burglarizing the Deaf” may be the happy marriage of Deleted Scenes’ dominant influences—it melds dream pop with a locked-groove, organ-drenched hook, and lingers long after it’s over.
Deleted Scenes might still be infatuated with whatever’s bumping out of Brooklyn, but its weather vane points in a different and much weirder direction. It’s just a matter of time before the band releases a whole album of bedroom pop-funk kiddie jams. Mark my words.
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