Their Myspace describes their music as: wild. And also: flaggy. If that doesn't sum up the style behind Wild Flag's four rocking badass chicks, I don't really know what would. In fact, I'm not entirely sure that this review will add much more substance than that. But for those of you who are curious about the sound of Wild Flag's first album, self-titled, you should be happy to know it is a fantastic, well put together, thoughtful and original journey through 10 tracks. It's almost addictive, in fact. They rock. Literally, these girls know how to rock. And that's probably because the current band members have known each other, and played in bands with each other, for more than a decade. The expertly crafted yet spontaneously contagious energy of Wild Flag doesn't just happen everyday. This album has been brewing since the naughty 90s.
In fact, you may already know some or all of them from their separate but related musical endeavors from the past decade, including Sleater-Kinney, Helium and The Spells. Carrie Brownstein (vocals) and Janet Weiss (drums, backing vocals) both enjoyed the 90s as Sleater-Kinney, an energetic "riot grrl" rock band known for their face-smashing punk and feminist ideologies. Rebecca Cole (keyboards, backing vocals) and Mary Timony (vocals, guitar) played in various bands alongside Sleater-Kinney, such as Quasi, The Consortium and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Oh yeah, and you may also be in love with Carrie Brownstein from her hilarious sketch comedy TV series on the Independent Film Channel, Portlandia. (And if not, watch it. Because what can't Carrie Brownstein do?)
Wild Flag is definitely a superwoman supergroup, and this first album is nothing less than infectious, dynamic and downright explosive. From the first song and the single, "Romance," all the way down to "Black Tiles," this band uses a well-measured blend of clever lyrics, a prominent lead guitar full of attitude, drums that keep the party moving along and slightly androgynous, smooth vocals with a punk sensibility. Carrie Brownstein's vocals pack a punch, kind of like a powerful, feminine rhinoceros is emerging from her throat, coated in a soft layer of honey. She somehow manages to turn guttural rolling vocals with an occasional shriek into a smooth, deep sort of ear massage.
From the opening beats of "Romance," where the bass and keyboard communicate perfectly with each other, you can tell this is going to be a fun ride. Moving on through to include the always-solid drums and tuned-up lead guitar that weaves throughout the background beats, the song has a momentum that builds to moments of group harmonies, clapping, catchy hooks and a guitar solo, all the while demonstrating the fine-tuned songwriting capabilities of four musically seasoned ladies. Not a love song, the girls impart, "Sound is the blood between me and you."
Wild Flag borrows the punk rock energy and social awareness of Sleater-Kinney, and combines it with some undeniable rhythms, a beat that never ceases and moments of simple, straight up fun hooks, resulting in a collection of music that's no doubt more accessible to a wider audience. This album is definitely easy on the ears.
Overlapping instruments in a way that makes them seem like one single guitar-bass-drums octopus is one of the strongest aspects of Wild Flag, again, probably because these four are practically sisters. "Glass Tambourine" uses a slower tempo and more melodic vocals to create a ponderous personification of percussion (say that ten times fast). The highlights of this song are the build up of drums, bass and guitar when they are all playing together, and the soft, fainter background vocals toward the end of the song. The excellence and cleverness of the group's overall writing abilities really shines through in this tune, as well.
If there's a quintessential dance-themed and danceable track on the album, it's "Boom," with a breakdown refrain of "I like the way you move around the floor," amid some truly booming drumbeats and up-and-down scaling on the guitar.
"Future Crimes" is another noteworthy single track, opening with perhaps the greatest amount of tension within the album, allowing pleading vocals to interweave with a solid drum pace, leaving room for a flute-like keyboard solo. The tension between the drums and guitar stays steady throughout, as Brownstein controls an almost-screaming tirade, spitting out some of the best lyrics on the album. With biting control almost broken, she sings "If you're gonna be a restless soul/Then you're gonna be so, so tired/If you're gonna keep me up all night/Then you better learn to love this fire." And fiery it is, love it we do.
Finally, "Racehorse" uses that same literary device we last saw in "Glass Tambourine" to let out some animal aggression. This is simply a great song, lyrically, experimentally, vocally and instrumentally. Bursting in unison, "I'm a racehorse, yeah I'm a racehorse," the girls sing, "You put your money on me...Pony up/And ride." If "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" had a decent, indie, feminist equivalent that rocked ten times harder, this would be it.
From the downtrodden guitar solo in "Something Came Over Me" and the smiling keyboard segments in "Endless Talk" to the punkishly seductive vocals in "Racehorse" and the closing drums that keep a steady beat throughout, every element in this album interacts with the others in a way that spells out magnificent. According to the Merge Records page, these girls from various other bands perfected their particular Wild Flag feeling on the road and at shows before sitting down to record the album. And it shows. The entire romp is well-crafted, with not one single moment of "uh-oh, what do we do in this part?" It's seamless and can easily be listened to over and over and over again with increasing enjoyment. As Brownstein sings in "Something Came Over Me," this is how I now constantly feel about Wild Flag: "I want you here now/Cuz you're coming through a stereo, stereo sound." Put these wild chicks through a stereo and the unleashed, flaggy sound will delightfully abound.
Reviewer Bio - Nancy Woo, managing editor at OnlineRock, studied Sociology, Literature and Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz. A self-described "bohemian of sorts" she spends most of her time listening to music, reading, writing, freelancing in the world of journalism, tutoring writing, running, practicing yoga, attending live music and theater shows.