The temptation with any band that is labelled a “super group” is to try to look at them as a sum of their parts. With Wild Flag we have two members of Sleater-Kinney (leader Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss), Mary Timony of Helium, and Rebecca Cole of The Minders – I think it’s fair to say then that Wild Flag is made up of two parts Sleater-Kinney and two parts relatively unknown quantities. Those familiar with the work of Timony and Cole will know that their style is not dissimilar to that of Sleater-Kinney’s, and so might expect Wild Flag to be for all intents and purposes a new Sleater-Kinney album under a different name. Those unfamiliar with their work will come into this wondering what these two can bring to the sound and see if Wild Flag is something completely different to Sleater-Kinney. As is regularly the case, we end up somewhere in between.
The album is entirely upbeat, and the majority of the album could be labelled as pop rock. If the chorus of “Romance” has been spinning around your head since it was released in the summer, then expect “Boom” to do the same. Lyrically this stuff is simple, and just as once it was a pure pleasure to hear Carrie Brownstein effusing about how great the sound of simple words and guitar could be, the effect is the same here. She might throw in an interesting line like “sound is the blood between me and you,” but, more regularly, just hearing about how she “likes the way you move around the room” is impetus enough to get up and move yourself when combined with the kind of musical backing she gets here. One of the most notable characteristics in Wild Flag’s sound is Rebecca Cole’s work on keys; they arpeggiate through “Romance,” stab viciously in the chorus of “Boom,” are lightly sprinkled amongst the guitar stomp of “Future Crimes,” and memorably crop up on several other occasions, always making a huge impact. Note should also be given to how clean the production is here, with nothing sounding distorted or fuzzy – purposefully or otherwise – and just allowing the colourful melodies shine.
When they can, Wild Flag take time to show off their psych-rock side – something that Sleater-Kinney approached with some of their songs on their final album The Woods. “Glass Tambourine” seems to be the women trying to showcase their vocal skills and create something that harks back a little to pop from a finer time, but their harmonies are merely serviceable, which makes the song enjoyable but nothing special. However, in the second half when they go off on a psych tangent with some loopy guitar interplay and synth (i.e. they stick to their strengths), the song becomes mesmerizing. “Short Version” pulls the same trick, while penultimate song “Racehorse,” by far the longest track at 6:40, takes its time in going for the jugular, but by the time Brownstein is gutturally shrieking “I’m a racehorse! Put your money on me!” over waves of guitars, it’s at your throat and has burrowed deep into your mind.
The only missteps here are slight. “Endless Talk” is a by-the-numbers rock song that, while relatively uninteresting, will still keep afloat your interest, buoyed mostly by those trusty keys. “Electric Band” is altogether just too nice; amongst an album of determined pop-rock and sprawling psych passages it just doesn’t work, like a kids’ TV show that somehow found itself billed amongst prime-time television.
To call Wild Flag a debut album is somewhat ridiculous considering the years of experience these four women have amassed between them. This becomes even clearer when listening to the album and realising just how proficient they are at creating tight and intricately layered rock songs. They’re not reinventing the wheel, hell they’re barely even reinventing themselves, but that’s a good thing on this occasion, as they’ve created an album that will appeal to fans both new and old.