Just one year after its existence was announced, the debut album from the much-blogged-about supergroup Wild Flag is finally here. Made up of what could be considered indie rock royalty, the four-piece includes guitarist/singer Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss, two thirds of Sleater-Kinney, reuniting for the first time since that band’s 2006 dissolution. Singer/guitarist Mary Timony, formerly of the sorely missed Helium, and keyboardist Rebecca Cole of Elephant Six group The Minders round out the lineup.
Wild Flag sets itself apart from other supergroups by showing a clear sense of purpose: This is a band formed out of a necessity to explore new, creative ideas, not just an outlet for a few bored artists to kill time between their regular outings. (I’m looking at you, Them Crooked Vultures.) More than just a novelty record, the sum of the band’s parts becomes an all-new whole. To employ a metaphor, Wild Flag would be a high-priced martini, while many other supergroups are the musical equivalent of a plastic tub of jungle juice.
Let’s clear the air and just put it out there: This isn’t Sleater-Kinney 2.0, and it’s not the Helium album some have been waiting with baited breath for over the last decade-plus. Wild Flag is something new, though not wholly unfamiliar. Brownstein and Timony’s voices will stir memories of past projects, but their new vehicle drives much harder and louder. “Short Version” is lifted into altitudes higher than any individual member has been before, led on by a blistering, high-gain guitar lead from Timony, who has dialed her amp up higher on this album than indie rockers half her age would dare to go.
Energy is the key to this record, and it sounds as if this were a much younger band with more to prove. Brownstein and Timony’s chemistry is clearest on “Racehorse”, which features the former laying down a gritty, crunchy layer of rhythm, while the latter explodes into a pedal-to-floor fuzz guitar shred. Cole even provides a delightfully psychedelic keyboard breakdown at the midpoint of the six-minute rocker. “Boom” is a well-mixed piece of garage rock that gives all four ladies a chance to cut loose. The proceedings get even wilder and more varied in “Glass Tambourine”, which takes several steep tonal shifts through its running time.
Taken as a whole, Wild Flag would undoubtedly be an excellent debut album, even without taking the players’ all-star pedigrees into consideration. As it stands, supergroups rarely have any business sounding this good.
Essential Songs: “Racehorse”, “Boom”, and “Short Version”