As D.C. punks with ties to Priests, Fugazi, and Comet Ping Pong, Flasher are expected to have something to say about politics in 2018—but their debut album would have felt just as timely 30 years ago.
In their two years of existence, Flasher have existed at the cross-section of what makes Washington, D.C. an exhilarating and terrifying place to create political art. They've recorded in the studio of Fugazi’s Brendan Canty. Guitarist Taylor Mulitz was previously in the radical rock band Priests and continues to oversee its Sister Polygon label, which launched Downtown Boys andSnail Mail. And all three members of Flasher have also worked at Comet Ping Pong, the suburban D.C. pizza joint and DIY venue made famous by the psychedelically absurd and legitimately chilling alt-right conspiracy theory Pizzagate. All of this makes them exactly the kind of act that is expected to have something to say about 2018. What’s surprising—and thrilling—about their debut full-length, Constant Image, is that its social commentary would have felt just as timely at any point in the past 30 years.
The current tendency to view music primarily through the lens of politics can be aggravating and even, at times, counterproductive. But Constant Image makes the case that it’s willfully ignorant not to acknowledge how a calculus of independent choice vs. structural power governs the majority of our waking moments. The only alternative is an off-the-grid life, and that is nowhere near Flasher’s reality. The band members all attended prestigious institutions of higher learning and are now saddled with student loans and service jobs (whose monotony they view as a perk). They’re part of a lineage of countercultural art that attracts young, creative types to urban hubs and subsequently prices them out. Even now that they’ve signed to Domino, where their labelmates include Arctic Monkeys and Blood Orange, Flasher’s spare, scabrous form of punk seems unlikely to win over the lucrative festival crowds that can make indie music a full-time job.
The first lyric on Constant Image is “Doing drugs at midnight”—a succinct, vivid portrait of those in Flasher’s predicament, for whom recreational highs inevitably accompany career lows. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” are the album’s final words, on “Business Unusual,” and it’s clear from the context that cutting up a few lines after work is a far lesser evil than shoring up whatever power you have by taking away others’ freedoms: “Make the team/FOP, ICE, POS supremacy.” Distraction is the best you can hope for in the absence of real joy. Or, as the band puts it on “Material,” “Laughter in this century/Is a misery afterglow.”
While there are traces of shoegaze beauty, new wave jitters, and studious ’80s college rock in their sound, Flasher are effectively genreless. Similar to Spoon's early-2000s work, the songs on Constant Image are both minimalist and rich with percussive texture. Sunlit, harmonious hooks suffuse “Material” and “XYZ.” There’s a saxophone solo in the record’s final chorus. Even touches as subtle as shakers and tambourines feel rigorously vetted for maximum effect. Flasher never sound overwhelmed by their ideas, though the streamlined Side B run from “Skim Milk” to “Punching Up” throws their ingenuity in the album’s opening half into relief.
Constant Image peaks with “Who’s Got Time?” which chooses a shitty relationship over none at all. Described by the band as “a celebration of disappointment and failure,” the track indulges in some common punk tropes: ennobling underdogs who just can’t help themselves, finding triumph in camaraderie rather than traditional success. But Flasher don’t romanticize the times when the adrenaline nightshift gets way too real, fueled by whatever stimulant gets them through that thing they do to keep the lights on; they highlight the power structures that keep them on that treadmill. People who share the band’s demographic profile and financial straits like to joke about what’s “tired” and what’s “wired,” what’s “woke” and what’s “broke.” Constant Image recognizes that they are all of the above—and have been for quite a while.
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