Sleater-Kinney Release ‘No City to Love’
Evergreen’s Greatest Musical Legacy Continues
By Zachary Newman
Kathleen Hanna may get the documentaries and Calvin Johnson gets the books, but there is no greater product of Olympia’s music scene than Evergreen’s own Sleater-Kinney. Fiery, urgent, harmonious, and downright powerful, Sleater-Kinney offered an exceptional escape from the dudecore sound of a post-Nirvana world. Their riffs cut you, their voices fraught with riot-grrrl positivism pierced you, their beats pummeled you—then they went on hiatus.
Singer/guitarist Corin Tucker had kids to raise, and Janet Weiss drummed for Quasi, Stephen Malkmus, Conor Oberst, and The Shins. Carrie Brownstein became…well, Carrie Brownstein. Launching “Portlandia” and appearing in credit card commercials, Brownstein also found time to form Wild Flag with Weiss, a kind of supergroup, which made one album before splitting up. Combining pop with the kind of edge a band raised on great records can only bring, the album was filled with hooky treasures, yet only made listeners yearn for Sleater-Kinney even more. But in the interim, the world questioned, will Sleater-Kinney ever reunite? Will they ever top 2006’s masterful The Woods? Are we just stuck with Fred Armisen’s incessant reminders that he was once cool and can make funny voices?
Coming off of a boxset of remasters, there was good news. Yes, Sleater-Kinney was coming back, with a new album and a tour, which everybody knew was going to be great anyway. On Jan. 20, Sub-Pop released No Cities To Love. And, oh my.
The comeback begins on “Price Tag.” Tucker’s heavy low-end chug sends the song propelling into Brownstein’s swirl of clanging guitar, which is played through an effect that St. Vincent would be proud to use herself. By the chorus, Tucker is bellowing “We’ve never really checked/the price tag” and “We love our bargains/we love the prices so low.” Having grown from the rightfully pissed off college student she started off as, Tucker is now a majorly pissed off mom, having equipped her motherly worries from One Beat with fury for a bizarre new world.
Songs like “No Cities to Love” and “Hey Darling” are tremendous earworms that demand re-listening, while “Surface Envy” and “No Anthems” show what Sleater-Kinney does best—weave discordance and abrasion into pop melodies without losing any edge. With “A New Wave,” Brownstein flexes her pop ability. This song is hooky and will most likely be the one I keep going back to, but it sounds way more Wild Flag than Sleater-Kinney, which is to say there’s more bubble and pop to the sound. This is not a complaint. As I said earlier, Wild Flag was great, but this seems like a cover. Brownstein has also developed a peculiar way of singing, where it seems like she sings around the notes and not the actual notes. “Cityyy” becomes “CIT-TAAAAHHHH” and it’s just kind of odd. Again, I blame Fred Armisen.
Not since Fugazi has a band meant so much, so deeply, to so many. Like Fugazi and the Clash before them, there were pertinent issues to be discussed in Sleater-Kinney’s songs. Their performances were a freewheeling celebration of femininity and a kind of exaltation in the way they played. Through their lyrics, they set their sights on heteronormative male culture and attacked from the inside out. Their return comes at a perfect time, a time where feminism is the topic of conversation for Malala Yousafzai, Beyoncé, Leslie Knope. Their return comes at a time when we have to pretend to listen to “meninists,” a time when a movie can quantify hatred for an entire religion, when we still have to fight to define what a livable wage is. There’s still work to be done. Luckily, Sleater-Kinney sing about frustration like The Beatles sang about love, and the world is a better place now that they are back to show us the way through fills, riffs and stage kicks.
And to think it all started in our little college.