Few rock bands could make much of a lyrical allusion to broken glass. But cue a track from Wild Flag’s debut long-player, the chugging, psych-tinged “Glass Tambourine,” and more interesting imagery is imminent. The group is, after all, comprised of punk luminaries—singer-guitarist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss of the indomitable Sleater-Kinney; singer-guitarist Mary Timony of both Helium and Autoclave; keyboardist Rebecca Cole of Elephant 6 band The Minders—who have been obliterating indie rock’s looming glass ceiling for over two decades.
Sleater-Kinney emerged from a 90s movement of intelligent guitar music: shredding, stereotype-defying women full of potent rage and hope, whose complexity was often erroneously whittled to “angry women in rock.” But this band is not Sleater-Kinney. To singularly situate Wild Flag, though, one might begin with Brownstein’s most recent shining Sleater-Kinney moment: howling through the single, “Entertain,” from their last record, 2005’s The Woods. “You come around looking 1984/You’re such a bore, 1984,” she shrieked. “Nostalgia, you’re using it like a whore!” One can only imagine her thoughts on our current musical moment: retrospective and male-dominated. Perhaps it’s why her new band, instead, goes for something
Wild Flag captures rock’s definitive energies: desire (“Boom”), aggression (“Racehorse”), fury (“Future Crimes”), strength (“Something Came Over Me”), bliss (“Romance”). It’s a record of passion, liberation and friendship that fuses 70s punk and careful hints of New Wave, full of jagged riffs and psychedelic keys, alternating between Brownstein’s fiery howls and Timony’s cool drawl. But Wild Flag‘s reference points are few; there was little feminist music in the 70s, and this is an utterly feminist record.
“Romance” opens Wild Flag with a bouncing ode to sound itself. Weiss’s muscular drums fill between Brownstein’s raspy, heartfelt verses, fuzz-laden fret-climbs, and saccharine group choruses that recall 60s pop—”shake! shimmy, shake!”—as the group sings about finding each other through music. “We love the sound, the sound is what found us,” they sing, “sound is the blood between me and you.” The layered choruses soon turn towards liberation through rock: “We sing to free ourselves from the room.”
A mid-tempo rocker full of wah-wah riffs and la-la-las, “Something Came Over Me” reaches its most resonant line—”I feel faint but never weak”—within thirty seconds. Another highlight, Brownstein’s “Boom,” is a swaggering, garage-like countdown of sharp guitars and trembling vox. Feminists generally loathe rock star worship, but if you love smart, charismatic rock, it’s easy to obsess over Brownstein here. As she moves through Wild Flag‘s first single, “Future Crimes,” it’s the record’s most gripping work—urgent and forward-moving, full of repetitive, angular minor chords and ferocious 4/4 beatkeeping that build to the final line: “If you’re gonna give up on this fight, then I’m gonna call you a liar!”
Despite the album’s clean finish and NPR-rock standing—indeed, amid the recent historicizing of Riot Grrrl, the broadened appeal seems groundbreaking—Wild Flag retains an indelible teenage spirit, stressing rock’s ability to incubate. Maybe grown-up punks will understand the album more than Gen Pitchfork, but there’s a lesson in its steadfast energy that defies time. To draw from Sleater-Kinney’s essential third member: “Culture is what we make it.” Now, as ever, is the time to invent.
Photo John Clark