Posts Tagged ‘ Sleater-Kinney ’

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

Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years (Music Review)

1,000 Years cover

Corin Tucker Band - 1,000 Years

Corin Tucker hasn’t been heard from much since Sleater-Kinney ended. Her long-awaited reappearance, now at the head of The Corin Tucker Band, is sure to thrill some fans and disappoint others. Sleater-Kinney’s final album, The Woods, showed that they didn’t feel beholden to anyone else’s expectations, and so it’s no surprise that the new 1,000 Years rarely sounds like Sleater-Kinney.

Tucker’s voice is still unmistakeable, of course. But she is much more restrained now, usually singing in a low-key, relaxed croon. Occasionally, she slips comfortably into her old hooky vocal catches (in “Half A World Away”) or full-throated rock mode (most notably in the refrainof “Doubt”), but she usually sounds like she expects to be singing for a quiet coffee shop than a raucous crowd.

The band, which includes both a dedicated cellist and violinist, is similarly restrained most of the time. They’re content to try out different sounds on almost every song, starting with a familiar folk-rock but rarely staying there. “Handed Love” builds a bluesy, slightly electronic riff through two quiet minutes before releasing the tension with a half-minute of energy. “1,000 Years” uses a quiet but sinister grinding bass track to give weight to the light acoustic guitar that drives the song, And “Doubt” is simply a balls-out rocker, though its abrupt stop and re-start in the middle makes it less radio-friendly than it seems.

There are a few problems, though. The quiet singing and slow, frequently hesitant music often result in things that feel more like song snippets than complete works. Tucker’s lyrics add to this, with a recurring theme of separation (whether in time or distance) and loss. The narrators grasp for something, but their satisfaction remains as stubbornly out-of-reach as the listener’s. When the lyrics do resolve to specifics, they often go too far to the other extreme. (The last verse of “Half A World Away” explains that it’s literally about a lover gone to deliver aid in Africa. After the bulk of the song is so vague, these eager specifics create an artless contrast.) Overall, Tucker makes an honest attempt at varied, personal topics, but never finds the memorable turns of phrase, revealing lyrics, or hooky sounds that make personal songs successful.

It’s also frustrating that the band can be a little more eager to go loud than Tucker is. Even when they both raise the volume, the music has a tendency to drown out the vocals. Whether this is poor production or an intentional distancing from Sleater-Kinney, it sounds unnatural and draws the attention away from one of the group’s biggest assets.

A lot of talent is evident here, both in Tucker’s solo songwriting and her band’s versatile support. The decision to release this album as “The Corin Tucker Band” rather than simply as a solo “Corin Tucker” was the right one. However, they haven’t yet figured out how to best reach the potential that they show.

Grade: C