For whatever reason, indie rock has become increasingly dance-ified over the past decade. Starting with the New York dance punk movement and the ascendency of the DFA through the explosion of chillwave (whatever that is) over the past few years, Donna Summer has been more of a touchstone for flagship indie rockers than the Ramones. Don’t get me wrong, I like to throw on a hoodie and a pair of Chuck Taylors and shuffle arhythmically along to disco synths and drum machines as much as the next fella, but there comes a time when you just wanna get the Led out and hear some old-fashioned R-O-C-K. You know, two guitars, drum ‘n bass, like Lou said.
Even this year’s Pygmalion Festival, thoroughly awesome though it was, was way more dance-oriented than rock. Fortunately, here comes Merge’s Wild Flag with the year’s best straight-up guitar album. This Friday they’ll bring that rock explosiveness to The Highdive. In fact, their guitar pyrotechnics are so incendiary that you won’t even notice they don’t have a bass player (kind of like the Doors, though that’s a thread best not picked at).
While Wild Flag might seem cobbled together, they’re actually more like a supergroup. Keyboard player Rebecca Cole comes to the band from her previous assignment as drummer for the Minders, an Elephant 6-affiliated 60’s throwback fuzz rock outfit. Sleater-Kinney alumna Carrie Brownstein — one of the most inventive and talented guitarists on the market today — reprises her S-K role as the face-melting shredder whose leads could make the ghost of Ron Asheton come back to life. Conversely, co-guitarist/vocalist Mary Timony, formerly of semi-legendary slack rockers Helium brings a certain sense of melodic poppiness and subtlety to her songs that provides an interesting counterpoint to Brownstein’s megawatt wailing. The group is rounded out by drummer Janet Weiss, also from Sleater-Kinney and most recently the drummer for Stephen Malkmus’s band the Jicks. My favorite drummer, Weiss plays such with diamond-like solidity and enough force to China Syndrome the entire band clean through the core of the Earth. The concert would be well worth the price of admission just to see Janet Weiss go to work behind the drum kit; combined with three other equally dynamic musicians, Wild Flag is an irresistible combination.
Released last month via Merge, Wild Flag is the most interesting guitar-driven record to come out this year. Album opener “Romance” immediately grabs the listener’s attention and holds on for dear life with more melodic ideas in its four minutes than most bands could find room for on an entire record. While there’s not a single dull moment on the entire LP, there are some definite highlights. “Electric Band,” which starts slinky and seductive, ends up morphing into a sweet pop song over the course of three and a half minutes. “Glass Tambourine” opens with a monster riff and a drum beat that is best described as martial before reaching a swooning, ethereal chorus and then marching on into a coda that’s just begging for a crowd shout-along to accompany a messy, squalling guitar freak-out. The ultimate strength of the record — and the band itself — is in the dynamism of the songs. These four are such talented musicians that they can explore multiple structural and melodic ideas within each song with aplomb. The result is an energetic, thrilling product bursting at the seams with pure rock power.
So what can we expect from the group in the context of a live show? Though they’ve existed for less than a year, Wild Flag have coalesced into a formidable live act already. Writing from the road, keyboardist Rebecca Cole describes the mixture of energy and comfort of the band’s relationship: “We’re definitely more familiar with each other each time we take the stage, but there’s still a sense of newness.” With the band’s dynamic becoming increasingly solidified, the audience should be in for a thrill.
Asked about the group’s plans for the show, Cole says that the band’s set should be a good mix of material: “We’ve been learning a bunch of covers, and I’m excited to see which ones we end up trying on stage. We’re mostly playing songs from our record, but we’re also taking the opportunity to play some new songs.”
Lest you get the impression, however, that the band plans to just rehash their record onstage, Cole says “there’s no pressure to keep the live show faithful to the record. Also, there are always songs we let wander off the rails every night.” Based on this, looks like we can expect a frenetic interpretation of the album’s songs and a smattering of unexpected gems. You know — a rock show.
So, if you’re all danced out for a while and you’d like to do some thrashing around, hit the High Dive this Friday for Wild Flag. Anyone who likes loud guitars won’t be disappointed.