[Rating: 3.5 stars]
“Hey! Can you feel it?”
How’s that for an attention getter? Carrie Brownstein sings that throat-clearing line on the first verse of the first song on the first album by Wild Flag, and it’s a perfect introduction to this supergroup of ‘90s indie-rock survivors: Sleater-Kinney’s Brownstein and Janet Weiss, Mary Timony of Helium, and Rebecca Cole of The Minders. They want to make sure you feel it—or at least make sure you know that they feel it.
And what is “it” anyway? It is, simply and unironically, the power of music to move a body or a heart, to offer a communal experience between artists and audience members. This idea has motivated the individuals’ music from the very beginning, and on their debut album, Wild Flag sound like they’re re-dedicating themselves to that ideal. These are smart, savvy, endlessly catchy pop-punk songs that strive to create a spiritual—or at least romantic—experience with the listener. “Romance” equates rock with true love, as they boast “we have an eye for what’s romance” and argue that “blood is the sound between me and you.” And by you, they mean you specifically.
As with so many supergroups, from the Traveling Wilburys to Gorillaz to Chickenfoot, Wild Flag can sound a bit stiff, especially when the tempos lag on “Glass Tambourine” and “Something Came Over Me.” They’re still getting comfortable with each other, still figuring out how Wild Flag sounds, as opposed to how members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, and The Minders sound. As such, Wild Flag sounds like an exploratory record, and to their credit, the musicians never strive for big statements or indulge any self-seriousness. They view this project as a pick-up band with potential—as more than just a one-off.
Even so, it’s hard to shake the idea that perhaps Wild Flag isn’t a project best suited to albums. Thematically and musically, these songs sound like they were intended to be played live. “Romance” and “Boom” and just about every track on Wild Flag may sound volatile, almost bursting their seams with creative excitement, but Wild Flag never truly cut loose. That’s not necessarily a criticism: As enjoyable as the album may be, this band needs an audience of excited, cheering fans to transform these songs from 1s and 0s into transcendent experiences.