Wild Flag – Wild Flag (Music Review)

Wild Flag cover

Wild Flag - Wild Flag

For fans of the much-missed Sleater-Kinney, 2011 was a banner year. Corin Tucker returned with a new album after years of silence, and Carrie Brownstein started the surprise hit comedy Portlandia. Around the same time, Brownstein also joined forces with Janet Weiss, the only Sleater-Kinney member who had stayed active in the music scene, to form the band Wild Flag. While I found Tucker’s album to be so-so, the self-titled Wild Flag album has manages to capture the spirit of Sleater-Kinney without ever being stuck in the past.

(I should admit to one issue with my review right away: Wild Flag has two more band members, Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole, with resumés that stretch back as far as Brownstein and Weiss’. They are integral to this new band, but since I’m not familiar with them, my personal reaction to Wild Flag is through the lens of a Sleater-Kinney fan.)

Brownstein, once listed by Rolling Stone as one of the most underrated guitarists of all time, is only improved by the move from a trio to a quartet. Wild Flag’s sound is rich and varied, with one foot in the Kill Rock Stars-led scene of indie 90’s rock, and the other ready to fill clubs today. The balls-out rocker “Boom” is several steps above the treatment that the comparatively stripped-down Sleater-Kinney would have offered, while “Racehorse” (with its confident, sexualized declaration, “I’m a racehorse/Put your money on me”) is like a tighter version of The Woods’ challenging “Let’s Call It Love”. That’s not to say that the band needs to be compared to Sleater-Kinney at every turn. Some songs, such as the tension-filled “Endless Talk” go in a direction that that previous band simply wouldn’t have thought of.

Brownstein remains as energetic as ever, with Wild Flag being first and foremost a love letter to music. This is made obvious, and literal, right from the opening track: “Romance” is specifically about the joys of live music, and directly calls out any fans who are too cool to sing and dance themselves. That theme of movement and abandon repeats throughout, most notably on “Boom” and “Short Version”. Though it’s difficult to reconcile this attitude with Brownstein’s half-decade under the radar, you’ll be best off simply ignoring that and enjoying the result.

As someone who always wants to see artists trying new directions, I feel a little strange emphasizing Wild Flag’s connection to Sleater-Kinney at every turn. I’m doing it not to reduce them to a nostalgia act, but because they feel like deserving heirs to Sleater-Kinney at every turn. It’s not just the girl-rock, complex lyrics, and Brownstein’s distinctive voice, but the fact that they don’t seem beholden to the expectations that those might create. In 2006, Brownstein and Weiss risked alienating their fans by following their muse to The Woods, a jammier album made for large arenas. That same freedom is evident here. Follow these musicians to their new band not in the hopes of hearing a repeat of Dig Me Out or All Hands On the Bad One, but because they still have the creative spark that drove them then.

Grade: A


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