There's a lot of expectation that comes with this one — Wild Flag is the first major musical post-Sleater-Kinney project for Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, and includes Mary Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (The Minders) to boot. Their early live shows held all the excitement one would hope for with these veterans channeling their talents into a new project. And their self-titled debut album doesn't disappoint, as one perfectly formed indie rock blast ignites after another. Energetic doesn't begin to describe songs like the shout-along “Romance,” while the band shows a bittersweet delicacy in songs like “Something Came Over Me.” Wild Flag should remind fans of independent rock throughout the '80s, '90s and '00s of plenty of great bands they loved from those decades (including the former bands of its members), but Wild Flag's brittle, guitar-geek riffs, vocal interplay, melodic songwriting and, yes, wild energy, should also remind us of why we loved those bands. You're going to have to sit down for this one.
St. Vincent's Annie Clark is very obviously musically gifted, as a singer of uncommon warmth,a wicked guitar player and inventive songwriter. Her previous albums, Marry Me and especially its follow-up, Actor, showed flashes of brilliance amid occasionally fussy arrangements. But not only is Strange Mercy her strongest album to date, it's one of the best indie rock releases of the year, ably capturing her unique combination of experimentation and lush orchestration, mania and giddiness (think Doris Day losing her shit). Like her previous college-rock staple “Actor Out of Work,” “Cruel” balances current trends — clean guitar lines, a wink to fashionable Afro-pop — with bits of minor-key, swooping gospel choruses that send shivers every time. “Surgeon” pulses with neurotic, antiseptic tension. Electronic ballads like “Neutered Fruit” and “Champagne Year” find Clark at her most naked, taking her to stark, emotional places that graciously pay off. There isn't a misstep on Strange Mercy, remarkable because of the chances she takes; what's even more remarkable is that given her wide scope, the album comes out a powerful, unified statement.
Fool’s Gold – Leave No Trace
From the easy Smithsy jangle “The Dive,” the latest from L.A.’s Fool’s Gold lets its listeners know this won’t be a repeat affair of the group’s afro-pop-loving debut but rather a crystallization of the sound they’ve worked on, touring for years and developing into an excellent indie pop band informed by worldbeat but not shackled by it. Leave No Trace runs its fingers along a spinning globe and across a pop-song timeline, but it never sounds forced; rather, each of them album’s 10 songs packs headspinning detail into an easily digestible format. Dynamite single-worthy jams like “Window Worthy” work up clap-along dance beats dressed with flourishes like flutes here, disco synths there and lush, soulful choruses everywhere.