There’s always been something self-congratulatory about supergroups, as if the mere idea of getting all those Wilburys into the same room was half the achievement. Was that a drum fill or the sound of the band patting itself on the back?
That’s why Wild Flag is a supergroup that doesn’t feel like one at all.
The self-titled debut by the indie band — singer-guitarist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, singer-guitarist Mary Timony of Helium and keyboardist Rebecca Cole of the Minders — lands next Tuesday, covered in all the sweat and grit and uncertainty that makes great rock-and-roll great. With power pop melodies, classic rock riffage and a punk heart beating furiously throughout, the foursome sprint through the album’s 10 tracks as if Wild Flag was the first band they’ve ever played in.
Which obviously isn’t the case. Timony, a Washington native who got her start in local punk band Autoclave, led the Boston band Helium through a righteous run in the ’90s before releasing two unfairly ignored solo albums in 2000 and 2002 that predicted Joanna Newsom and other freaky folk music to come. Sleater-Kinney was peaking around the same time with a brand of feminist rock that grew out of the riot-grrrl movement and into the mainstream, guitars blazing.
Instead of driving a stake in our nostalgic hearts, Wild Flag expounds on its members’ pedigrees, but with enough tenacity to make it all feel fresh. Brownstein has talked about “desperation” as one of rock’s leading virtues. On “Future Crimes,” she shows she means it. Weiss torments her snare drum while Brownstein laments, “I’m so hard-wired to be alone.” The two push even harder on “Boom,” which sounds like a Cars song wound so tight it eventually snaps and unspools.
With “Glass Tamborine,” Timony takes charge of the tempo (slower) and the mood (more ambiguous). The song is both dreamy and taut, with a refrain that can be read either as a call to honor music as something
sacred and precious or a critique of those who do: “A glass tambourine/Don’t shake it like you mean/A glass tambourine/Don’t break it on the scene.” But before we have time to decide either/or, the song evaporates into a psychedelic stardust of dueling guitar solos. They come noodling back into the album’s closing track, “Black Tiles,” with Brownstein and Timony trading riffs that are impossible not to air-guitar along to.
But as great as these songs are, Wild Flag — which proved itself as a stellar live act almost instantly last spring — also embodies a sad rock paradox: The album never feels as good as hearing the band onstage.
So if you were grounded the weekend Helium came to town in 1995 or had never heard of Sleater-Kinney until you saw renaissance woman Brownstein starring in the IFC comedy series “Portlandia” earlier this year, go see them. Wild Flag is on tour all autumn (and will be at the Black Cat on Oct. 20). It’ll be better than any reunion tour dragging itself across the country. It’s your chance to live in the thrill of the right now.
Recommended Tracks: “Glass Tambourine,” “Future Crimes,” “Black Tiles”