Flasher’s Utopian Joy Is For Everyone
In December 2021, Taylor Mulitz, one-half of the arty and infectious indie duo Flasher, left a digital marketing job he’d held for a year. “Finally, I’m free!” he thought after he gave notice. The timing fit: Flasher’s expansive second album, Love Is Yours, which he’d recorded with bandmate Emma Baker in mid-2020 as a pandemic summer raged, was nearly ready for release. (It’s out June 17 via Domino.)
It had been almost four years since Flasher’s debut, and Mulitz felt ready to jump back in. For fun, he made a few goofy TikToks to plug the first single drop in March, incorporating Barenaked Ladies’s eternal 1998 hit “One Week.” But as he quickly discovered, the content machine never stops churning.
“Now that I’m promoting the album, I’m like, oh, this is so fucked up, because I’m taking everything that I learned from that [job] into [making TikToks],” he tells MTV News with a wry smile. “My mental health declined so much because I was spending more time on TikTok than I ever had before.”
Thankfully, unlike celebrity pop stars beholden to corporate engines, Flasher are free to create at their own pace. If they want to race cars in the desert or recreate the plot of National Treasure for their music videos, they can. The clip for the album’s elastic title track finds Baker, a former theater kid, donning excessive stage makeup to resemble the film’s iconic star. “I think we had a breakthrough moment when I realized the Nicolas Cage look is all in these weird creases,” Baker says, gesturing at her jaw.
The videos mirror the egalitarian joy that listening to Flasher can elicit. Mulitz and Baker often sing lead together, their voices melding into a single dreamy unit. (“Do I sound sincere? Do I make myself clear?” goes the album’s first chorus.) Bass and guitar parts, played on the album by both of them and co-producer Owen Wuerker, construct a danceable framework over which they layer hooks that knock the wind out of you. Every element feels colorful and slightly out of focus, like the joyous artwork of the album itself.
Mulitz and Baker are childhood friends who grew up going to shows and playing music together. When they began the band in Washington, D.C. in 2016, their roles were more defined: Mulitz as guitarist and Baker on drums, with former member Daniel Saperstein on bass. Their acclaimed 2018 debut, Constant Image, radiated peppy post-punk and a lifetime of finishing each other’s musical sentences. After touring the LP, Saperstein departed. The newly two-member Flasher regrouped at Wuerker’s D.C. studio in summer 2020 to record Love Is Yours and embraced the uncertainty of figuring out their new constitution.
“It makes sense when you have a trio that there’s just going to be two people into one thing and another person that’s like, ‘That’s not it. Let’s keep going,’” Baker says. This time, it was much easier. The ideas flowed, and the duo simply rode the wave. “I feel like I surprised myself at how many things I could do that I don’t normally do.”
Though Love Is Yours is Flasher’s first statement as a duo, it sounds anything but binary. Their creative liberation yielded 13 songs that push their blended vocals to the front of the mix, fashioning a pop-forward collection that still relies on occasional experimentation. All ideas emanate from Mulitz and Baker, who initially demoed these songs with drum machines and GarageBand samples. When it came time to lay down the album versions, they left in certain sonic ephemera that they’d gotten used to. “I Saw You,” the album opener, contains a boombox radio snippet recorded by Baker and later processed with a neat delay effect.
As accessible as the music can be, frustration also creeps up in the lyrics. “The world is always ending,” goes the otherwise sprightly “I’m Better.” “Such a fucking waste of brain cells / Trying to make any sense at all.” It’s tempting to read the state of the world over the past two years into those lines, even though the song details a toxic relationship. For every bit of despair on the album — “I don’t want to be here / Damage is everywhere” — optimism rushes in to counterbalance. The direct line “Love is yours if you want it” hits like an epiphany, as if you’d never considered the cosmos could be so uncomplicated.
“Especially compared to making the last record, this one felt so much easier and more fun,” Mulitz says. He attributes that partly to the recording setup — they returned to a former practice space where they’d tracked their first EP — but also the economic relief that stimulus unemployment checks provided. (The pair lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic.) “It really felt utopian in that way,” he continues. “We were like, wow. Could you imagine if the government actually supported musicians and this was just normal? I think it shows.”
The celebration also bleeds through on the magnificently busy album cover. Created by artist Em Aull, who labels his style “equal parts Hieronymus Bosch and Richard Scarry,” it’s a vision of a neighborhood in harmony: People of all shades bike, shop, and eat ice cream. Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” sounds from a theater marquee. Dogs and children dot the sidewalk. And a policeman disappears down a manhole in front of an ice machine tagged with “Fuck ICE” graffiti.
“What we really wanted was something that felt like its own world, where you dive into it, and you could listen to the whole record and sit there and just stare at the cover the entire time,” Mulitz says. It’s the kind of scene you might pore over as you try to unpack lightly psychedelic lyrics like those that lead off bustling first single “Sideways” (“At certain times of day / I can hear the lights ringing”) or that pack the humid “Dial Up” (“Invent the deception / A gaze you can’t evade”). Or maybe you’ll care less about the message as you let the narcotic delivery of two joined voices overtake you.
As such, Love Is Yours is likely to play like a patchwork of great ideas refined by close friends who, geographically, aren’t actually so close anymore. Baker remains in D.C., while Mulitz has since relocated to the West Coast (first Los Angeles, now the Bay Area). Their home music scene has changed substantially, too. But it hasn’t made Flasher sound any less spirited or less in harmony with each other.
“Being the age that we are, where I feel like a lot of our peers have moved away or gone on to different types of careers or started families or whatever, it’s just a lot of stuff all at once,” Baker says. “But I feel like it makes us not living in the same place feel OK instead of, I don’t know, scary.”
“That’s not to say it didn’t feel a little scary at times,” Mulitz adds. “I felt selfish for [leaving]. But having an idealistic outlook about it, I feel like there’s plenty of bands that are bicoastal, or people that live in different places and make it work.” The utopian ideal remains — if you want it.