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Wild Flag – Wild Flag (Merge)

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Oh Wild Flag, how did we get here?

Wild Flag – Wild Flag starts off promising enough.

Take the first track on the album, ‘Romance’.

The lyrics seem to suggest themes about committing your spirit to music in a big way.

We sing till we’re crying
We sing to free ourselves from the room
We love the sound, the sound is what found us
The sound is the blood between me and you

‘Romance’ is about an unyielding passion for music, for its ability to connect the musician and audience to one another, and to something that is ultimately greater than all of us. It’s about a spiritual devotion to music — something us kids like to call “soul control”.

‘Future Crimes’ is a real high point of the album. There’s a great angular guitar part and an awesome synth lead in the chorus. As always the drums are FANTASTIC (no complaints from me, Janet!) and Carrie Brownstein finds the right voice to balance an Elvis Costello level of ferocity and rock moves that would make Pete Townshend gag. But it’s only one song. And I wish there was more Mary Timony in it! Which leads me to confess that my favorite song on the album is actually ‘Something Came Over Me’, a beautiful song that makes you fall in love with teeny tiny Mary Timony all over again. She sings a beautiful melody on ‘Glass Tambourine’ as well. I mean GOD DAMN I love Mary Timony. You could just curl up and take a catnap in the very heart of her sunshine voice and I promise she would stroke your hair and whisper all of the secrets of the known universe into your ear. She does it all with her voice. The way she sings a melody — nobody does it like her. Really this should be gift enough.

I thought ‘Race Horse’ was pretty awesome the first time I heard it. However, the song, which comes close to the seven-minute mark and features an extended middle “rockin’ section” where everyone sings “We’re in the money!” (WTF?), becomes the worst kind of parody after the third listen. The only redeemable part is this crescendo where Brownstein works herself up to screaming “Pony up! And RIDE! AND RIDE! AND RIIIIIIIIIIIIDE!” … You know, in a real “losing her shit” kind of way. Now THAT’S what I would’ve liked to have heard more of.

I like the parts in the album where Brownstein and Timony actually sing together, like in ‘Black Tiles’. It actually sounds like they wrote this song together instead of just bringing something in for everyone to play. There’s a lot of talent there, but it doesn’t sound like any of them really joined together to create something bigger … something they couldn’t possibly have created on their own.

Unfortunately that’s kind of what being in a band is about. It’s the chemistry that really sets the whole thing off. A group of people can join together in a way that is totally complimentary and innovative, in a way that just creates this new entity that is superhuman. This is what makes a group of people a band. Wild Flag isn’t really a band, it’s just four All-Stars negotiating for their spot on the plate.

Yes they are confident sounding, but do they inspire confidence? I might listen to them to get pumped up for a job interview, but I don’t think listening to the album would fill me with the confidence to start a band or play an instrument. Of course that’s my humble opinion, and you can have your own too you know. Here’s what inspires me with the confidence to make music.

To each her own, right? But to be fair, the first video of Wild Flag’s live performance that I saw really did make me feel more confident about playing music. It made me want to jump around and roll on the floor with a guitar in hand. Who cares if it goes out of tune? Just keep playing! For some reason the recorded album is different. It lacks the original inspiration and energy.

They feel less like a band and more like a patchwork quilt; like four pieces of beautiful fabric sewn up together. There’s no real consistency in the song writing. There are just parts that hint at growing into something, but sort of fade away half way through. I love the beginning of ‘Electric Band’. Mary T’s voice, a really killer guitar part … but it’s all just a set-up for this really unimpressive chorus and bland lead guitar bit that’s just way too classic rock, man. I mean BORING with a capital B. And I know all about it because that’s the letter my name starts with.

If I may posit my own hypothesis here, really having no inside information about how Wild Flag writes their songs or what their driving purpose is behind playing music together, I would guess that there is no real dissenting voice in the band. You may be familiar with this type of person. This is the person who says, “Well I’m not so sure if that’s a good idea. Why don’t we try this?” Or perhaps they are the type of person who is gifted in decision-making, and can help each member of the band find their niche to really bring up the overall strength of the band. Now I may be completely off base about this, but based on the way the album sounds, I would guess that Wild Flag is very much a “yes-anything goes” group of people. Sometimes this strategy works great if the members of the group mix well together. Wild Flag seems more like a rock’n’roll fantasy camp, where each individual gets the opportunity to step forward and do their thing, but without ever melding together to create that mystical other.

Of course this may be exactly the reason why each member plays in Wild Flag. Maybe they aren’t interested in being a band anymore. In Helium and Sleater-Kinney you got the feeling that the band was greater than the individuals who comprised it, and maybe this project is a way for the individuals of Wild Flag to stand in front of the idea of the almighty band. And if that’s the case, then more power to them. Their poster hangs outside the big club in my hometown where anyone who bothers to glance at the printed piece of paper as they walk by can read the names of every member of Wild Flag in large letters: Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss. A group of individuals. The All-Star Special.

Related Posts: We’re in the money! Hurrah for Wild Flag

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5 Responses to Wild Flag – Wild Flag (Merge)

  1. mmc August 31, 2011 at 2:14 am

    Love your honesty. I am an equally huge Mary Timony fan, and was a huge fan of Quasi (missed the boat on S-K; maybe I’ll eventually check them out). It’s not enjoyable to criticize your own heroes, inspirations and biggest influences, but at a certain point, when dealing with art, honesty trumps loyalty.

  2. Joseph August 31, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I think Wild Flag’s hype has outshone the final result. This is a band that was hyping its players before they even stepped into the studio. It just…misses, and I think you captured brilliantly the reasons why. If it accomplishes anything, it’ll probably be to a Sleater-Kinney reunion.

  3. Everett True August 31, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I haven’t watched the online interview, but in fairness to anyone who talks to Wild Flag … I was literally tongue-tied when I first met Janet Weiss (with Quasi, in Brighton) I was so in awe of her. She was so nice, though …

    A couple of years later, when The Legend! was supporting Sleater-Kinney in London, she actually offered to drum with us on stage “if I get back from dinner in time”. The fact she didn’t remains one of the hugest disappointments of my musical career.

  4. Joseph August 31, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Just watched the interview: the interviewer? Ted Leo. Great talk.

  5. Deanna August 31, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    They were so focused on being WILD FLAG! that they forgot to write songs. For shame.

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