Punk is a funny word. Sure, there are the irksome hard-liners who insist on a rigid, form-based definition, but punk's most useful as an indicator of a fuck-you mentality within the music. Given that connotation, Pink Flag is probably punk rock, but the Durham trio's latest EP, King of Scene, obviously aims for something more nuanced than thrashing, screeching rebellion—properly, post-punk angularity. It's too bad they overreach in obvious, unnatural directions.
"3 6 9" covers the range of the band's current direction, with an intro reminiscent of All Hands on the Bad One-era Sleater-Kinney. It soon launches into recognizable pop-punk territory, complete with harmonies and galloping drums in the catchy chorus. This part is straightforward and natural; singer and guitarist Betsy Shane convincingly explores insomnia, sexual frustration and finally falling asleep only after the sun's up. "Kill Yr TV" offers an alternate take on the drum-and-vocals bit from Hendrix's "Fire," which finally leads into an MC5 riff. Thick with overdrive and proven rock energy, it's a promising start that grinds to a halt in the form of an incongruous post-punk chorus the band almost can't handle. In trying to prove it can write complicated material, Pink Flag sacrifices any songwriting flow.
Several years ago, during my big Sleater-Kinney phase, a friend told me Corin Tucker's piercing vocal trills made him hate that band. I disagree; Tucker worked hard to control "the weapon," as her bandmates called it. Shane applies a similarly vibrato-heavy style throughout King of Scene, and it makes for some queasy spots. As with the exclamation mark or capitalization, overuse dulls its impact.
Pink Flag is trying really hard to do something cool, complicating the rollick of straightforward rockers with jarring, halting transitions. With these sections removed or smoothed, this would have been a fairly fist-pumping EP. As is, it plays like an experiment in evolution, recorded midway between modes.