One drawback of the comedy skit show Portlandia, as funny as it often is, is that it has threatened to turn Carrie Brownstein into a comedian who plays music, rather than a musician who does comedy. And the distinction is somewhat important, mainly from a listening perspective: there are a few times when listening to the self-titled debut album from Wild Flag, featuring Brownstein on most lead vocals, where you can’t help but think of it as being sung by one of her Portlandia characters. Who knows, maybe that would be a plus for some listeners. It’s just that whereas her very distinctive vocal style, when she was in Sleater-Kinney, previously seemed quirky, it might occasionally now seem more of an affectation.
But regardless, that doesn’t stop Wild Flag, released in September 2011, from being a great listen all the way through. It’s the next best thing for anyone missing Sleater-Kinney, but rest assured, it’s not merely a replica of that now late, great group. In addition to Brownstein, it also includes Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, but the other members are Mary Timony, leader of Boston’s semi-legendary Helium, and Rebecca Cole, of the now-defunct Elephant 6 band, The Minders. Together, they bring their varying strengths, to form an excellent whole. Helium was never so far removed from what Sleater-Kinney was doing — maybe sort of a more psychedelic version of S-K — so there’s definitely a continuity in the Helium/S-K/Wild Flag spectrum. And the lead track, “Romance,” makes a case for chemistry: there’s clearly a lot of it going on in Wild Flag. The member work together as though they’ve been at it as a band for years, and in a way they have, pursuing their own parallel paths that are just now coming together as one. With any luck, they will be at it for a few more years, together.