Wild Flag is a lot of things, but a supergroup isn’t one of them. Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Janet Weiss, and Rebecca Cole may have all been in notable indie rock groups over the past couple of decades (Sleater-Kinney for the first two, Helium and the Minders for the rest, respectively), but they’ve all been on each other’s personal radars for long enough that the transitory, just-messing-around vibe of most supergroups simply doesn’t exist. Timony and Brownstein briefly performed together as the Spells, and both Helium and the Minders played several shows with Sleater-Kinney during each of their runs. If the band members were a bunch of stones sitting loosely in a pile before, Wild Flag is the wall cemented together.
Classification debates aside, you’d be hard pressed to find a more confident debut album this year than the quartet’s self-titled offering. They built hype the old fashioned way, by absolutely slaying every show they played and generating genuine word-of-mouth-buzz. A recorded note of the band’s music was not even made available until March of this year, six months after the announcement of their formation. 2010 arguably saw an entire genre, witch house, transform from an intriguing phenomenon into a parody of itself in less time. The pure legwork and thoughtfulness put into Wild Flag shows on every blistering, endlessly intriguing track. 10 songs in 40 minutes, and not one of them are wasted.
Brownstein and Timony make for a formidable team of guitarists, constantly launching spindly leads back and forth off of each other like a game of ping-pong with several balls. When they break this pattern, it’s so Brownstein can deliver gritty rhythm parts, or so Timony can blast off on a fuzz-soaked solo tangent. Their roles as guitarists are in direct opposition to their roles as vocalists, with Brownstein continuing to deliver her chirpy, unhinged exhortations while Timony acts as the (mostly) calm foil. Cole and Weiss are far from background members, with Cole’s keyboards sneaking in often to deliver expertly written melody parts, and Weiss continuing her reign as a bona fide indie drummer MVP, delivering finesse and sheer power in equal amounts, as always.
As for the songs themselves, they come off as rolled up chunks of punk, post-punk, vintage pop, psych and classic rock with occasional nods to the frequent musical excursions made by prog musicians. What sounds like a complete genre mess instead produces an album of amorphous, organically shifting songs, the constant being electric instruments and volume. ”Romance,” “Future Crimes,” and “Boom” are all strident, Brownstein-led declarations, the kind she always did so well in S-K, but with more instrumental looseness and low-end heft. First single “Glass Tambourine” kicks off with a Deerhoof-ian intro, and trots its way through several sections, each of them varying in tone and intensity. Every moment that it seems like Wild Flag might give into the urge to meander, they instantly course correct with an earworm like “Endless Talk,” which finds Brownstein backed by harmonized backing vocals, prickly guitar from Timony, and a plucky keyboard lead from Cole.
The beginning of this review stated that Wild Flag are not several things, but never mentioned what they were. Wild Flag is a group of musical veterans offering just enough comfort through familiarity while still legitimately challenging listeners. Wild Flag is the creator of an absurdly good album, one of the most vital of 2011. Wild Flag is not a supergroup. They are a super group.