Caution comes not so much from doubt but fear - desperation that this promising-beyond-words enterprise delivers at a level its starry provenance suggests it should. No-one should decry the involvement of Minders keyboard player Rebecca Cole or Helium front woman Mary Timony. But the bunting goes up for the presence of Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein, reunited for the first time since their previous band split in 2006. Almost, or so it seemed, single-handedly responsible for the up-keep and well being of alternative guitar rock for a decade or more, they challenged the status quo with laser insight (into, amongst other things, the politics of the bullshit of relationships) and melodic smarts (nervy, bass-less guitar precision.) It’s all very well saying they went out on a high, as popular and respected as they ever were, the only Riot Grrl survivors to cross over from scene obscurity into near mainstream acceptance, but that just made it harder. Time to say goodbye? Nah. They had, it seemed, a multitude more to give. But here, praise be, is reason to ditch the tissues. In the slipstream of former bandmate Corin Tucker's excellent debut last year, Wild Flag make a grab for your hearts.
Dry those eyes and switch on to the world’s coolest drummer and the world’s coolest guitarist (note the absence of “female” as a caveat) engaged as fully with their new band mates as they ever were in previous incarnations. Wild Flag is an explosion of old-meets-new, exuberantly traditionalist in how it races old school shredding around indie pop’s awkward back streets. More often than not, Wild Flag convene around a raucous groove and megaton riffery that owes more to Keef than influences more ‘alternative’. You could slip the likes of ‘Endless Talk’ and ‘Racehorse’ into the back pages of, say, Exile on Main Street and they’d fit, easy.
It’s something of a strange delight to see stalwarts of the indie scene step away from the comforts of, say, discord and awkward unresolved progressions and test their mettle on time-served methodologies. Opener ‘Romance’ gallops in on multi-tracked harmonies, a “shake shimmy shake!” middle eight and a grasp of 60s girl groups as sweet as it is surprising. It’s a slippery handshake that confounds expectations and is unspeakably catchy to boot. ‘Something Came Over Me’ is a joy, spun around the tight weave of Brownstein and Timony’s guitar’s and the first indicator of Wild Flag’s ‘You sing one, I sing one’ democracy at work. It’s no reflection on Timony that her new partner arrives with a higher profile. Those of us alert to Brownstein’s unmistakable yelp will recognise newly flexed muscles; the absence of Tucker, a vocal whirlwind, provides room she’s never known. But it’s Timony who’s the surprise, with a voice hardly reknowned for its range or depth. Here she’s upfront and bold, and while Brownstein beats her for volume and v-v-vibrato, her gentle tone and undeniably prettier stylings kinda win the day.
Thankfully, Wild Flag's highlights nudge both leads into shot. Brownstein’s ‘Boom’, a barrage of crunching bar chords and stabs of organ, sets the floor on fire, its message as lustful as its drive: “I love the way you make me stay up late…you hold my hand, you take command.” Timony’s ‘Glass Tambourine’, a trik-trak exercise in the spookiest psychedelia, and the closing ‘Black Tiles’ where she lets fly with a guitar lick that would have Angus Young talking to his intellectual property people, are the hot coals of this burning debut. The pace never settles but the songs maintain a level; rough cut and simply mounted, they’re diamonds nevertheless. The dual leads are at the epicenter of this debut’s room-shaking tremors but their band mates stamp authority. Weiss is a thrill ride, as ever – see how she takes them into the tricksy break on ‘Endless Talk’ and then breathlessly leads them out. Possibly helped by the absence of bass, Miller adds colour and drama to guitar thrust. It all sounds far too good to be true but Wild Flag, potentially a distraction or a hobby piece, just f***ing works. They face the greatest challenge of any old head starting a new job - not of showing how much they really want it (any old wannabe can do that, as prime time TV is so painfully reminding us right now), but of proving they’re the best (wo)man for the job. Was there ever any doubt? Young guns go hang. These ladies got you beat. The coolest band in the world just arrived. What you gonna do about it ?