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Album Review: Wild Flag's "Wild Flag"

September 12, 2011 |  6:31 pm

  Album Review: Wild Flag's "Wild Flag"

For scholars of indie rock, the union of Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein as Wild Flag is notable not only for the pedigrees but for what they signify. The former was the voice of Boston lethargy rock band Helium, the latter (along with Wild Flag drummer Janet Weiss) a member of Portland, Oregon’s Sleater-Kinney.

Go deeper than the East-West convergence, though, and you have genetic intermingling: Helium recorded for New York City’s white-collar indie label Matador Records; Sleater-Kinney got its start on Northwest imprint Kill Rock Stars before moving to mega-indie Sub Pop. This new project, on North Carolina’s Merge Records, then, unifies theories from four of the most important American rock labels of the past two decades.

And what has the merger wrought? Rock, with guitar solos, mean riffs, barks, yowls, “shoop-shoops,” grooves and an inherent understanding of swagger and energy. At its best, as on the masterful “Short Version,” which takes a Tom Verlaine-inspired guitar line, dumps it in gasoline and sets it on fire, the fledgling concern races like it’s been together for years. “Glass Tambourine” is as trippy as its title, an oddball amalgam that begins like an Alice Cooper song before settling on a simple riff and becoming bouncy, then combustible, then just plain weird.

The problem is that too many of these songs just don’t swing — they happen and then they’re done, but they don’t stick in the head. It’s like the musicians are speaking a few different dialects; you can understand the words but the poetry gets lost. Timony’s seductive voice, for example, has always been best surrounded by languid tones; she’s less a rock singer than a chanteuse, and has a hard time competing with the volume. “Electric Band” suggests the Velvet Underground’s primal “Sweet Jane” riff, but can’t capitalize.

In the live setting, Wild Flag manages to make it work, but its recorded debut suggests a band that needs a few more touring seasons before its members sound as one.

Wild Flag

"Wild Flag"

(Merge Records)

Two and a half stars (out of four)

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--Randall Roberts

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