One-man racket-making specialist Ted McGrath has hit on to a nice niche here. With The Flag’s Heat Waves, he’s happened onto this strange electronic hybrid. Swathes of eclectic influences, styles and instrumentation all come together in this intriguing amalgamation. Sensations of Girl Band, The KLF and Young Fathers all come to mind as the album takes you on its rather spritely journey. It’s sharp, absorbing and more often than not quite compelling. There are issues with its layout and construction, however, that hurt the experience overall.
The proceedings start well with the titular ‘Heat Waves’, this brooding creeping creature which uses its slinking, dread-inducing lead melody to send shivers down the spine, culminating with a surprisingly bombastic second half. It’s the right track to start the record with, setting the tone and mood pretty succinctly while still allowing there to be room to play around with the idea of what The Flag can actually be. This experimentation takes the form of Disintegration-era Cure (‘Bang.’), lo-fi garage rock (‘The Horror’) and Joy Division brood (‘Just Like A Magic Bullet’), all of which are very strong cuts. Crucially, they never feel like pastiche or shameless thievery, instead rather like a logical progression of the sound being set free to roam the wild. The record flows very well too, oscillating between its more ominous, subdued urges and its pulse-pumping, beat-heavy drive with aplomb. The reason for this centrally seems to be how well edited the songs are. Five of the album’s 10 tracks are shorter than two and half minutes and they’re better for it. Rather than dragging out a single idea to the point of annoyance, Flag allows each track to breathe for as long as it needs to.
The whole disc seems to be building up to a single song though: ‘Shoot the Messenger’, a side-two, eight-minute opus that seems to encapsulate everything the band wants to achieve here. It’s hypnotic and woozy, yet laser-focused in its intent and manages to mould itself effortlessly into four or five different tracks during its runtime. That said, it is a bit too long for its own good and its positioning on the record is problematic. It’s followed by three tracks: the first two are good and the third needs to be the album closer. But after you give your opus to your listeners you better have one more trick up your sleeve or else the album is going to lose something as a whole. Sadly that is the case here — all of the tracks are good, but they’re not strong enough to follow ‘Shoot The Messenger’ and as such bring down the experience in those crucial final minutes. At its core, though, it is a good record. It’s nimble and light with the right amount of peculiarity and intrigue to carry some of its weaker moments. It has a lot to give if you’re willing to devote the time and to overlook questionable track arrangement. Will Murphy