At some point in your life, you may accomplish something of worth. It may be a beautiful marble statue, it may just be a well balanced cup of tea, but that accomplishment is yours. It's in the bag, it's safe. But what happens after that accomplishment? You have accomplished, so everything will be judged from there. 'What now?' asks the universe, 'What next?'. Wherever you go, you start from a cosmic 'You Are Here' sign on the map. To the North, the Devil. To the South, a deep blue sea. To the West, a rock, to the East a hard place. Choose your own potential misadventure. If there is any solace to be had here, it is to know that you are not alone.
Take Wild Flag, for instance. Their members, not unlike a cumulative Chuck Norris, have a lifetime of achievement between them. Rebecca Cole, formerly of the Minders and The Shadow Mortons takes her seat at the keyboards. Janet Weiss, former drummer in the Jicks, Quasi, Sleater-Kinney returns to the drum stool. Carrie Brownstein, also of Sleater-Kinney and Mary Timony, of the lesser known Helium share vocals and guitar duties. It isn't a super group, more a combination of like-minded musicians. A band, if you will. But a band with previous, with achievement. And everybody, overtly or covertly, will be judging them from what they've done. Are they as good as Sleater-Kinney?
That's a very subjective question. Sleater-Kinney were unmatched in making danceable indie rock that sounded different from everyone else, and Wild Flag seem to fit into the same category. The new unit could be seen as a progression from the former if you wished, and songs like 'Boom' are effectively indistinguishable from that template. But given repeated listens, Cole's keys signal a distinct shift towards new wave, and occasional nods to classic rock abound. The slick, overdriven intro to 'Glass Tambourine' will have you whistling it on the way to work, and 'Racehorse' seems to be a Stones song ripped from elderly clutches, tuned up and driven through the mansion gates. Languid and louche, it isn't hard to imagine Mick strutting his way through it as a blues number, although the repeated refrain of "We're in the money!" would sound more vulgar from his lips. It's a six and a half minute masterclass in how to mine a groove, a jam that has been reined in and honed to excellent effect. There's a pleasing Anglophile nod in the otherwise average 'Endless Talk', with Brownstein letting her vowels drawl out all Lahdan like for a second or two. It doesn't distract from the song being a throwaway though. 'Electric Band' is pretty dull too, even if the playing never drops below exemplary standards, it just seems to go nowhere.
Luckily, Wild Flag are easily as adept at penning a pop song as their former outfits were. 'Romance' is terrific, a single in the traditional sense, all hip shakes and handclaps, with a rock bridge before the final chorus that most bands just aren't inventive enough to think of, let alone actually attempt. 'Future Crimes' is a floor filler, propelled headlong by Weiss pounding the drums as if her life depended on it, and the rest of the band wrap around that airlock of a beat with a fidgetting keyboard line and short, stabbed guitar phrases.
Whether you come to this album fresh, or as a former fan of some other bands the members used to be in, Wild Flag offers a lot to the listener. There might be a little dip in the middle, but when you start strong and finish better, a little hammocking in the middle isn't such a terrible thing. It's a worthy album for consideration should you find yourself browsing in a record shop of a Saturday afternoon and fancy something at once familiar and different. Wild Flag have achieved success on their own terms by being able to offer such a choice to you. As such, they're back on the map. They Are Here.
8Tom Perry's Score