Flasher at the Lexington, November 13th
Flasher’s songs are so fluid and finely crafted, it almost seems wrong to call them punk. The ethos is there in their DIY approach and vaguely anti-establishment spirit, but their social disaffection is of the reflective, college-educated kind, far from the leftover teenage angst of their Washington D.C. forebears Minor Threat and Fugazi. It’s punk trying to hold-down a good job – no shock factor, just hooks. And Flasher deliver: their album Constant Image is one of 2018’s many excellent debuts, and their show tonight is an engaging success.
They begin with ‘Material’, a track which exemplifies their approach when it is at its best, mixing sharp-edges and velocity with nimble playing and space. Daniel Saperstein channels Kim Deal with subtly insistent throbs of bass, Emma Baker unpicks a knotty beat on the drums with power and precision, and Taylor Mulitz’s crunchy guitar dances with agility, slipping out of sight now and then. They follow up with an extra-quick version of ‘XYZ’ which laments the sterility of the modern world, nowadays so much the product of corporate interests that even acts of rebellion against it are inherently banal – “violate your terms of service” Mulitz urges us dryly.
But by this stage my attention was mostly drawn to Saperstein’s comportment on stage, the bassist popping and rolling his shoulders like a backing dancer on The X Factor’s hip-hop week, swivelling his eyes from side to side while gently smiling to himself like he knows the room are moving to his grooves. Except Saperstein doesn’t play grooves – he dutifully rings out quaver after quaver from his bass, without a trace of funk. His gyrations were profoundly genre-incongruous, and that makes him either a true pioneer, or someone who can always find the groove within – Amen either way, I say.
They kept up the great start with an excellent rendition of ‘Pressure’, their best song. Once again they deploy light, fleet-footed intricacy against cutting guitar chords and chugging rhythms, enhancing and sharpening the music’s edges by contrasting flashes of force with delicacy. Saperstein and Mulitz share vocal duties, both trying to find a release from the pressures of the day job (Flasher, like many bands, head back to work when they get back from tour) and anxiety. They’re the core three-piece tonight so the percussion and synth appellations that add depth to tracks like ‘Pressure’ are absent – that’s a shame, but you wouldn’t notice anything was missing from the way they rip through it.
Those embellishments are more central to ‘Punching Up’ however, and the shoegazey rush of the chorus is somewhat lost along with them, but it’s a good enough song to survive. An energetic rendition of ‘Who’s Got Time?’ follows and you realise they’ve top-loaded the set with the best half of Constant Image. It’s somewhat inevitable that the rest of the set isn’t quite as satisfying then. They dip into tracks off their Flasher EP like ‘Erase Myself’, redolent of Sonic Youth, and their 2017 single ‘Winnie’, which sounds vaguely like the Fall dabbling in surf-rock on a particularly lucid day. This diversion into the past is interesting for dusting off some of the more rarely-heard facets of Flasher, but you can see why these approaches were retired in favour of something more distinctive and aligned with their strengths as musicians – next to newer material these tracks sound homogeneous and unfocussed.
Baker barrels through the drums on ‘Skim Milk’ as they return to Constant Image for the penultimate song, displaying a remarkable blend of dexterity and power. They finish with ‘Destroy’, the closer on the Flasher EP. You can hear their much-advertised new-wave influences in the New Order style syncopated guitar riff, and more broadly, traces of the sound that they would go on to develop and cohere on Constant Image. “I’m starting to realise, I just want to be your boy” is the mantra Mulitz sings to end things, and it’s a fitting closer for its rare substitution of the sardonic in favour of the unguarded. If there is anything lacking in Flasher’s music generally, it is real, messy emotion like this, lyrics that reveal lives and personalities beyond those you’d expect as generic of intelligent, politically-aware young Americans.