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Recently, a Facebook friend scanned and posted a flyer for the Fort Reno lineup from 2002—the summer before I was a senior in high school, and a year when, maybe more than usual around these parts, musical lines of distinction felt especially permeable. The punk bands could be queer and funky; the loud bands played soft songs; you could make something scrappy and deliberately stitched all at once. Perhaps that’s how it always was and always will be, but seeing all those bands listed with each other—Fugazi and Dismemberment Plan, sure, but also Trans Am and Black Eyes and Pocket Rockets and The Most Secret Method—brought me back to an aesthetic and philosophical place that, I realized a day or two later, I also go when I listen to Constant Image, the ebullient and thrilling debut full-length by D.C. trio Flasher.
That’s not to say that Constant Image is an unoriginal record, just that the band’s members, who grew up in the area and see themselves as part of a local musical lineage, are painting with some well-chosen colors. That lineage is “punk,” of course, but it’s the kind of attitudinal punk in which labels are meaningless and nowhere is off-limits, but a certain angular sound rooted in ’80s post-punk is the perfect vehicle for exploring those places.
You can probably hear a lot of Beauty Pill and Soccer Team in these songs, as well as some of the current bands Flasher’s members have played in, like Bless, Big Hush, and Priests; casting beyond the District line, I hear Wire and the Moles and, when Flasher really tears away, the Buzzcocks. And as many of Flasher’s admirers have noted, the band tempers its thrust with a touch of shoegaze. Clearly Flasher show Yo La Tengo levels of great taste, and that accounts for where their music is coming from. But where they land is the impressive part.
You can tell from rippers like “Pressure” and “Skim Milk” that Flasher have a talent for rallying-cry refrains (“Go! Go! Living on the inside!”) and a genius for ratcheting up tension through careful repetition (the latter song’s driving bass line and stacked shouts build to a mind-scraping crescendo). Opener “Go” is a miracle of economy, balancing a blissfully spaced-out chorus with math rock-y counter-textures in less than two minutes. The power-garage of “Who’s Got Time?” makes me think the sadly departed Memphis rocker Jay Reatard could’ve had a productive run in D.C. It’s not easy to achieve something this intentional-sounding that also captures such abandon.
Or that feels so cohesive. Flasher—guitarist Taylor Mulitz, bassist Daniel Saperstein, and drummer Emma Baker—bring a lot of contrasting sounds to the table, but the final effect has the feel of something tightly wired and collective. Voices call, respond, and coolly intertwine. Carefully deployed synths never jar, only complement. The lyrics can be elliptical but immediate, casting a grounded spell, and they can be artfully descriptive. The first line on the album is “Doing drugs at midnight;” later Flasher describe a “telephone call in the bathroom stall, just out of earshot.” And the overall effect is something worldly yet parochial, that’s radically open to anything yet could only happen right here.