I’ll just go ahead and say it—I’m a bit disappointed in Wild Flag. I shouldn’t be—I should be beyond thrilled: Mary Timony, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss all in the same band—what’s not to love?! Well, I’ll tell you. It’s impossible to see them live, buy their new record or buy into that line of crap that they’re trying to feed people about how they’re trying to ‘work up to being their own band.’ No. You are in an indie superband and if you’re not going to own it it’s going to piss people off (like me, for instance). You’ve all already paid your dues, so play some bigger sized venues so that your fans who want to see you can get the opportunity. I actually would’ve liked to have had the opportunity to entertain the notion of catching them at the Empty Bottle had both shows not sold out in a fucking instant. Sorry, folks, but this probably means you might have to play at Lincoln Hall or maybe even (heaven help me for even saying this) the Metro regardless of whatever illusion or delusion of maintaining your cred you are operating under. People are going to want to see you based on your past musical endeavors whether you want to admit it to yourselves or not. That said, I suppose it is refreshing to see a little humility for a change.
And now, the recorded output: I have attempted to listen to a total of three Wild Flag songs and have, as of right now, failed to make it much further than the minute mark in any of them. I would like to add that I was a huge Sleater-Kinney supporter (until I read the lyric sheet for ‘One Beat’—a subject for another time) and that I have the softest spot in my heart for all Helium releases as well as Mary Timony’s absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful first two solo albums ‘Mountains’ and ‘The Golden Dove.’ In fact, Timony, in my mind, has always ranked high up there in the category of highly acrobatically capable guitarists who are able to balance their unparalleled shredding abilities with a wicked instinct for composition. The two are often mutually exclusive, but not so for Timony. An apropos confession—while living in Portland Stefanie and I bought tickets for a Sleater-Kinney show at the Crystal Ballroom only to see Mary Timony perform her opening solo set. We left after she was done. No shit. This brings me to a lot of my beef with the Wild Flag recordings—a lot of what put me off was the fact that it picked up right where I left off regarding my disappointments with both Sleater-Kinney and Mary Timony’s musical directions when I jumped off of each one’s respective bandwagon. I may have heard ‘The Woods’ once. I’m not sure. I seem to remember hearing it in a record store while I was browsing once. I believe my blind opinion differed very little from what it would’ve been had I known that I was, in fact, listening to the only Sleater-Kinney album I have ever deliberately not purchased. My verdict, I remember, was I liked a handful of the tracks, was annoyed at the drawn-out ‘jammy’ nature of the music (mainly because it was coming from a band that had always had a firm ‘no-bullshit’ stance which they held to enough that they never bothered to get a bass player) and also the bloated and crappily ill-fitting nature of Dave Fridmann’s production. This was a problem I also had with ‘The Great Destroyer’ by Low. Fridmann is the perfect producer for a band like the Flaming Lips. He was also a fantastic production foil for Mark Linkous on Sparklehorse’s brightest moment ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Mogwai’s ‘Come on Die Young’ was so well-suited to his penchant for obscenely bombastic drums coupled with crisp, digital production. Mercury Rev would never have worked with any other producer in the world. I actually really like his production. It’s when he all of a sudden became such an in-demand producer that he was being put into contexts where he just didn’t belong—i.e. working with Low and Sleater-Kinney for example—two bands that had always had a very firm no-bullshit, analog stance and had turned in multiple albums supporting their firmness in this stance. Had Low made 'C'mon' with him, for example, it would've been a bombastic disaster! Why would Sleater-Kinney want to work with someone who was so ensconced in the world of Protools? Probably the same reason that a band that had always built their reputation and artistic credibility on being no-bullshit and minimalist would want to stretch their songs out and make them ‘jammier.’ It just all seemed a bit forced to me. I remember watching them at the Crystal Ballroom (this was a previous time to the aforementioned show) as they pulled out such tired rock clichés as forced crowd singalongs, similarly forced-sounding jammed-out sections as well as backing tracks. No shit. When Nirvana bothered to finally mount a stadium tour they at least had the decency to just bring along a second guitarist and build an arty, unique stage set that was in line with their already firmly-established aesthetic. They were able to meet expectations while staying true to themselves. I just could never bring myself to listen to Sleater-Kinney again after that—it was such a far cry from what I’d seen at the Bottleneck only two years before on their tour supporting ‘All Hands on the Bad One’ which seemed to point towards a good path for them to make their music more accessible in a way that still seemed like artistic development.
So that’s where I left Sleater-Kinney. Mary Timony I left after her fourth solo record (the name escapes me). In her case it always seemed to be suppressed potential—she was capable of making these dense, engaging and gorgeous records completely on her own and yet all anyone wanted her to do was rehash what she was doing in Helium. The irony of this to me was that Helium also made dense, engaging, gorgeous records. I suppose the difference was that people thought they ‘rocked’ more, whereas something like ‘the Golden Dove’ is more of a dark, soft and insular creature. What’s the journalistic buzzword? Ah, yes: introspective! You don’t hear it a lot any more because now it has such a negative connotation. Times are bad enough without people having to actually think about the dark corners of their own psyches. We want rock, not to think about anything or contemplate a little beautiful music that doesn’t feel the need to beat us over the head and stab our eardrums and make us dance. I always felt a great amount of sadness that Timony didn’t continue down the path she had set with ‘Mountains’ and ‘the Golden Dove.’ Instead it always seemed to me that she retreated into what she thought others expected of her after Helium. ‘Ex Hex’ had some great moments, but the record’s songs were always more at home in the live context—maybe she should’ve tried to make her ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ with that one. The closer that she would perform from that record always melted our brains into mush when we would see it live. On the record, though, not so much. As if that weren’t enough Timony is relegated to a background player on a lot of the Wild Flag stuff that I heard. Her mad shredding skills were taking a bit of a back seat as well as her singspeak vocal style (which I would take over Brownstein’s similar singspeak vocal style any day). It’s stupid to have someone that musically capable pushed to the background. She can play and write circles around 90% of the talentless hacks in indie rock today (or any day for that matter). Listen to that Spells 7" from forever ago and see what I mean. I suppose this is just the nature of the indie rock climate these days, which is why I’ve found that I’ve grown further and further away from it as I’ve gotten older. It does a lot to explain the current lo-fi garage rock trend that all the kids are so nuts about these days. A postscript—if this pisses you off in any way please bear in mind that I am a 32-year-old college grad who works in a hotel coffeeshop who sunk all of his funds and future into a failed band endeavor. Wild Flag’s record is sold out of every record shop in town and every show on their tour is sold out.