Wild Flag: Playing on Prefix

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Recently a few interviews with Lana Del Rey (incidentally, the subject of my last Playing on Prefix) set the internet astir, with internet dudes taking other internet dudes to task re: the debatable hotness of indie buzzgals. Although the fact that these discussions took place in an almost-exclusively male vacuum isn’t exactly surprising, it’s worth noting that it adds an extra ridiculous, transgressive layer to a debate about when and how you can comment about ladies’ physical attributes and what denotes “indie womanhood.”

But the more frustrating point about the whole thing is the fact that this “debate” stole focus away from discussing the excellent albums released that week, several courtesy of unbelievably talented women like Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Laura Marling, and Wild Flag. We should have been crippling Twitter’s servers talking about this instead.

So let’s do that! Wild Flag is something like the Damn Yankees of women in 1990s indie rock: a supergroup whose members come with pedigrees — Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, Helium’s Mary Timony, and Rebecca Cole of the Minders, an Elephant 6 O.G. They’ve all been playing in the same circles for quite some time; playing together was the next logical step.

The recently-released self-titled album is Wild Flag’s first effort as a group, and one that neatly packages the members’ artistic points of view into something cohesive. They sound like a real band, and not a novelty dreamed up by shrewd label executives and publicists (see: Lou Reed, Metallica, forthcoming trainwreck).

“Romance” is angular and incisive; both riffs and lyrics (“We’ve got an eye, an eye for what’s romance/ We’ve got our eyes, our eyes trained on you”) simultaneously undercut and take a defiant, confident stand. And although Corin Tucker is regrettably not a part of this project, see if you don’t think “Romance” could easily pass for an early Sleater-Kinney song. Bonus indie luminary involvement: WMFU’s Tom Scharpling directed the video, a grown-up version of people peeling out of a parking lot for a day of good-natured hijinks.


In general, the heavier, faster-paced tracks — like the stomping, kicking “Boom” and “Future Crimes” — succeed more than mid-tempo tracks like “Glass Tambourine” that come across a little less focused. “Endless Talk” is the sugary sweet exception, and also the one track that hints that a member of the Minders is in the band.

It’s impossible to discuss music without thinking about the social and physical context that gave rise to the art. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum; our creativity is shaped by what we experience, how we’re treated, what we hear and see. It’s hard to separate this music from the legacy these musicians carry, but Wild Flag is much more than a novelty act leveraging 90s fame into a second career.

That’s not to say that you should come to the album expecting their original work: Politically-focused lyrics are mostly absent from Wild Flag and in general, the songs lack the frustrated howl that Sleater-Kinney or Helium had. Perhaps that’s because Wild Flag is an album made by people who are secure in their lives and careers: paths completely forged, philosophies fully developed. If it seems a little comfortable with itself and less desperately unhinged, it’s because these women are settled and successful.

In “Future Crimes” Brownstein howls “If you’re gonna be a restless soul/ Then you’re gonna be so, so tired.” Seems like the members of Wild Flag are definitely taking their own advice — but there’s wisdom in knowing when to pick fights and when to conserve your energy. It doesn’t stop this album from kicking ass.

— By Susannah Young