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The Wichita Flag - The Wichita Flag (Thunder Kick Records)

The Wichita Flag - S/t
15 December 2017

The second of Les Easterby’s Black Friday EPs is the first under a completely new name; The Wichita Flag. The eponymous release and project itself is one half winking vanity project and another half avant-garde retort to hometown cultural trends. In the city of Wichita, the appearance of its Cecil McAlister-designed flag has recently experienced a noticeable uptick of prevalence. Its purported symbolism – which includes happiness, contentment, and home – has now been subjected to Easterby’s reasonable scorn, sick and tired of its faceless inescapability, and perverted through the lens of Christianity; a theism whose similarly apparent wholesomeness also receives a prime spot on the chopping block. In this case, the packaging is the play, the contents are the sting.

Yet The Wichita Flag is much more than a con job. It may just be the most introspective “Christian rock” record of our time. Opener “187 (We’ll Go Up to Heaven)” tells the story of a character whose religious disenfranchisement takes an about face after coming to terms with the reality that the current human race may never outlive the War on Terror introduced in the early millennium. Like most of our nation’s ennui felt day in and day out (“I’m hella scared and I have too much on my mind”), the speaker cannot free their thoughts of debilitating anxiety and thusly turns to God for a source of hope; reluctantly at first; a last-ditch effort. Musically, “187” sets the tone for the extended play: an uncommon reliance on synths for Easterby, with guitar taking the backseat, and frequent usage of electronic drum hits. His voice stays muddled and echoed throughout as if sung through a large hall in a place of worship constructed out of soaking wet tin, giving it the characteristic of an ominous Greek chorus.

From then on, he takes the basic elements of gospel music and flips it on its head. After accepting the lord, it seems that our hero has truthfully drank from a proverbial punchbowl and all of their praises sung unto the powers that be have taken a cold, mechanical, sheep-like quality. In the Space Age Bachelor Pad Music -influenced “I Won’t Go Down,” Easterby croons the titular refrain as if he’s been hypnotized, and he’s not the only one. In the manner that The Flaming Lips take Christmas music and blow it up to be a great deal of cosmic perspective, The Wichita Flag similarly holds a magnifying glass to Christian hymnals, morphing them into (or even revealing them to be) vapid, unreliable distractors of a modern reality whose optimism is unsound.

The critical conceit behind Easterby’s latest identity is far more carefully constructed and wittier than realized upon first listen. Its beauteous zenith is reached towards the end of “187” following the closing nursery rhyme lyrics when a two-chord swell crawls slower and slower towards abandonment. The wordless section conjures imagery of acceptance in the eyes of God, but its fleeting wonder also contains a latent message that points toward desperation as a disposition that cannot be reclaimed. Whether that’s a bad thing or not, who can say. Despite its humorous conceptual beginnings, The Wichita Flag earns much more than it sets out to achieve, and across its felicitous 15-minute runtime, Les Easterby crafts a clever riposte in the face of blindly homogenized moralism.

You may purchase the record here.