Wild Flag: Wild Flag

Photo: John Clark

Maybe Wild Flag comes out of the gate a little slowly, but the indie supergroup makes up a lot of ground in the end.

Wild Flag

Wild Flag

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2011-09-13
UK Release Date: 2011-10-10

Being dubbed a supergroup isn't all it's cracked up to be, not when what you're doing in the here and now can't quite escape the overblown expectations that come with rose-tinted nostalgia. That's a little of what all-star combo Wild Flag has been up against since it announced its existence over a year ago, though this is one, um, supergroup that has more than a fighting chance to stand on its own merits. The product of Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss joining forces with Helium's Mary Timony, Wild Flag has a lot going for it, not only because the principals have pretty much always delivered, but also due to the fact that the band isn't resting on any laurels, gigging regularly and working hard on original material during its short time together. So, even though the quartet, rounded out by the Minders' Rebecca Cole, could easily get by on reputation and legacy alone, Wild Flag is anything but a vanity act, not settling for the default options of being the closest thing to a Sleater-Kinney redux or a revitalized Helium.

While a storied lineage is one thing, it doesn't guarantee that there's the right chemistry between all the parties involved, no matter how illustrious the players are. Sure, a good part of camaraderie is intangible -- either you have it or you don't -- but a lot of what goes into a winning formula is also earned and learned over time. Indeed, you could say that the self-titled debut reflects the process of the members getting to know each other in a working relationship, starting out a bit tentatively as they feel out the situation before hitting their stride as a unit unto itself. In effect, Wild Flag begins like a work-in-progress, but develops into a total package with time-lapse speed over the course of the album, as the band figures out how to forge an identity on the fly before you know it.

That said, Wild Flag does deal with some growing pains at the beginning of the album, as Brownstein and Timony take turns in the frontwoman role through the first half of the album. Leadoff number "Romance" makes an auspicious first impression, kicking into gear with Brownstein as bold as ever with her signature slice-and-dice riffs. What's a pleasant surprise, though, is that she's obviously taken the time since Sleater-Kinney broke up -- which was a lot longer ago than you think -- rounding out her game, coming off more assertive and confident as a singer than before with lyrics that work pretty well as a mission statement for Wild Flag before you any more meaning into them ("We love the sound / The sound is what found us / The sound is blood between me and you").

But Wild Flag loses the head of steam that "Romance" generates when Timony takes the lead on "Something Came Over Me". While that track is engaging enough in its own right, it's too early on the album for a change of pace, as Timony's more drawn-out, contemplative guitar work and easygoing vocals don't mesh so seamlessly with "Romance" before it and "Boom", another explosive Brownstein number, after it. So while it's not like Brownstein's slash-and-burn punk pyrotechnics and Timony's indie-prog noodling clash with one another, their distinctive styles can feel a bit disjointed as the two guitarists figure out how to play off each other and settle into a comfortable working arrangement.

That's not to say that the tracks aren't strong ones, it's just that some of the early numbers don't stand out like they could as the album ping-pongs between the two songwriters. In particular, Timony's best contribution on the album, the sprawling "Glass Tambourine", feels somewhat out of place sandwiched between Brownstein's punk-pop chestnuts. On it, Timony reminds you of what an inventive and resourceful musician she was in Helium, only to one-up her earlier work with a newfound sense of clarity and focus that keeps the extended jam under control. It just gets lost in the shuffle a bit, since Brownstein is working to establish her own artistic perspective at the same time. You could chalk it up to an issue with sequencing, but it feels more like the bandmates are almost too respectful and reverent of each other's achievements to let a single, coherent vision take hold. Egalitarianism might be a good idea in principle, but Wild Flag can't quite capture the creative tension that propelled Brownstein's best work in Sleater-Kinney or the all-encompassing punk-feminist vision Timony possessed when she helmed Helium.

But it's when Brownstein more or less takes the reins halfway through on Wild Flag that the album begins to gel and the band makes a mark all its own. Brownstein's guiding hand comes through more powerfully on the middle third of the album, as the tracks -- even Timony's -- become more streamlined, like the swaggering "Endless Talk", which nicely splits the difference between post-punk and new wave, and the to-the-point pop punch of "Short Version", on which Timony and Brownstein duel with sleek, angular riffs. The best of these short power-packed bash-ups is "Future Crimes", as Brownstein really comes into her own as a frontwoman because the band works so well and tightly around her energetic, action-packed lead.

Most of all, though, it's on the epic "Racehorse" that everything comes together, as Brownstein's manic urgency melds with Timony's more open-ended experimental side. Indeed, "Racehorse" is when you really stop trying to figure out where Brownstein's searing post-punk riffage ends and Timony's neo-classic-rock shredding begins, as one pushes the other with the kind of interplay you hoped for from Wild Flag when you heard of the project. So when Brownstein sneers on the standout track, "You put your money on me," she makes a pretty good case that betting on Wild Flag is a winning proposition. Even if it comes out of the gate a little slowly, Wild Flag covers any lost ground by the end, even getting ahead of the game when you consider how new to each other the bandmates are, supergroup or no.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.