It’s safe to say that Sleater Kinney were a major force behind the current indie rock movement. Coming into the alt-rock world during the mid-nineties, Sleater Kinney were born of the same influences as Mudhoney, Throwing Muses, Janitor Joe and the other early nineties punk-influenced-rock era, but came about at the tail end of the run. Caught in that limbo, the pushing rock guitars and pummeling drums that were infused with a sense of left politics and feminism opened the door for the next wave of musicians to create something totally new. It was bands like Sleater Kinney and The Breeders that kept alt-rock alive.
Five years after their break up Ex-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss have joined forces with ex-Helium chanteuse Mary Timony and The Minders drummer-turned-keyboardist Rebecca Cole to form Wild Flag, a band that could fill a much needed gap in the world of independent rock and roll.
The gap I’m talking about is a real return to an alternative rock state of being. Since bands like Sleater Kinney, That Dog, Weezer, The Breeders, Sonic Youth and so on have slid out of the limelight indie music has become a self-indulgent children’s playground. It’s a place where smug, self-satisfied children sing about pumped up kicks and down boys. The idea has become the machine, the scene has become more important than the music. Wild Flag is the first real step forward I’ve heard in a new dawn for alternative rock for one simple reason, they actually rock. Their new self-titled album has the same trappings as the current crop of indie children, but with a focus more on crafting great songs than fretting over the cleverness of it all.
Opening with the single “Romance”, Wild Flag calls to rock arms from the opening riff. The song bounces like early sixties British garage rock (think Sharon Tandy singing for The Zombies). “Romance” is a clash between the full out rock riff and pounding drums both finding solace with easy the vocals and keyboards. When “Romance” moves into the handclap-backed chorus, you’re suddenly dancing around your room singing along. To call the tune infectious is an understatement. Wild Flag follow that with “Something Came Over Me”, and ode to the up-beat power pop tunes that defined alt-rock of the nineties, especially female fronted bands. One riff jams, then slides into a more melancholy part that blend beautifully with the pop vocals and backing vocals. It’s a perfect driving song, one that screams to be played during a long drive through a city you’re unfamiliar with.
Not to throw the sixties thing out there again but “Boom” is pure sixties American Bandstand rock. Those tunes that had the Mods boogieing in their black suits and min-skirts, that’s what “Boom” kicks. Keyboards play a heavy roll here, large and all encompassing, the Hammond sounding keys allow just enough room for the guitars to wiggle in and create some sonic pops and swirls. Drop in the super throaty vocals and “Boom” is a tune that will bring the house down live.
What makes the Wild Flag album work is the cross-pollination of the stripped down rock instincts of Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss and the bubble pop vibe of Mary Timony. “Endless Talk” is cavity inducing candy pop; while “Electric Band” is a dirty bar rock throw down. It’s not that the songs switch off genre, but more that all the influences work together. A band is all chemistry, if that isn’t there then you get, well, for the most part you get modern indie rock. With Wild Flag the chemistry is firing on all pistons and the songs reflect that. Some of the jams on Wild Flag are better than others, but there’s not a bad tune on the whole record.
There will be those who don’t get this at all. Some will go to the shows with their stretch jeans and indifferent attitude just to pontificate on how this isn’t as good as Sleater Kinney. Others will see it as some kind of nostalgia trip. Those folks are missing out on what’s happening here. Wild Flag is not a band of nostalgia nor is it another notch in the tepid and vastly uninteresting indie rock sea. Instead they are a band of musicians who know how to write great songs and keep the focus on that. In a way they are alternative, an alternative to the indie scene that has now, much to their chagrin, become the mainstream. More importantly, their album kicks ass.
CRAVEONLINE RATING 9/10