Wild Flag’s self-titled debut may not be a Sleater-Kinney album, but it feels like an extension of that band’s hard-charging aesthetic. Sans Sleater-Kinney founding member Corin Tucker, and with the addition of Helium’s Mary Timony and the Minder’s Rebecca Cole, the group retains a similar bassless, all-girl structure, and the results are uneven but generally successful, with two vocalists commanding sinewy, tuneful music.
Sleater-Kinney was most strikingly defined by the push-and-pull interplay between lead vocalists Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Wild Flag attempts to create a similar dialectic between Brownstein and Timony, and the focus early on is unity, with the “sound is the blood between me and you” mention of opener “Romance” and the similarly cohesive refrain of “Something Came Over Me.” The two singers trade lines and share harmonies, but the rapport between them isn’t as sharply defined as it was in Sleater-Kinney, and the problems with this debut mostly involve its failure to find a happy stylistic medium between harsh and melodic.
Tracks like the lead singe, “Romance,” strike the right balance, obstreperous and mouthy, leavened by a bouncy keyboard and some short guitar solos. Other tracks sound either less assured or stray too far in weird directions. “Glass Tambourine” starts off too minimal before zoning out entirely out with a wobbly closing guitar breakdown. “Boom” is an odd mix of false stridency and self-conscious strangeness, with Brownstein adopting a yelping vocal pattern that sounds like an attempt to match the jarring fierceness of Tucker’s vocals.
With all this unevenness, Wild Flag is a marked step down from Sleater-Kinney’s supposedly final album, The Woods, which was an explosion of hard-rock influences that found the band operating at a creative peak. One problem here is that the pairing of Timony’s peculiar East Coast sensibility and Brownstein’s Northwestern post-punk aesthetic becomes less a suffusion of two styles than an awkward clash. The other is that none of these women have as strong or inimitable a voice as Tucker, which leaves many songs lacking a strong spine.
It’s also worth noting that even on their first effort, Wild Flag sounds astoundingly tight and dynamic, the chaos of Janet Weiss’s cascading rockslide drums matched by Cole’s sturdy, sonically binding keyboard. Beyond comparisons to Sleater-Kinney’s past work, the album functions as an intriguing first effort, jagged but routinely promising.