Sleater-Kinney: A Retrospective

Sleater-Kinney: A Retrospective

Louise MacGregorFriday,19 December 2014

The Snap:

I guess I have a soft spot for Sleater-Kinney because they’ve been around almost precisely as long as I have; their self-titled debut album was released a few months after I was born, and their passionate subscription to queercore, gender-testing, left-leaning politics pretty much sums up my life to this date so far. There’s no group that stands so firmly in contrast to the asinine, overtly feminine pop stars that have charectirised much of the millennium so far: spawned kicking and screaming from the riot grrrl movement in the early nineties, here is proof that women have as much a place in rock as they ever did.

The Download:

When their new album comes out next month, it will mark twenty years since their cult debut Sleater-Kinney (named for the interstate near their practice space). And plenty has changed about their sound since then. That debut, which sold an unspecified amount over a thousand copies, was a mixed bag that somehow came together into something entirely listenable – an almost uncomfortably raw, emotional album that was punctuated by Corin Tucker’s iconic screams and growls, it kick-started two decades of authentic rebellion. These were not women who were carefully crafting an alternative image because that was the genre they would probably fit most comfortably into; these were women who bucked and raged against traditional boundaries for women in the genre, pushing the riot grrrl tag as far as it would go with radical feminism, sexuality, and crunchy guitar worked into the addictive mix.

But it was with 1996’s incendiary Call the Doctor that Sleater-Kinney really saw their mainstream breakthrough. Pissed off at the examples set by an increasingly commodified music industry, the album–which was recorded in four days flat–bucked back against the traditional gender roles of women in rock music, producing one of the most seamlessly punky albums of their career, with two guitars replacing an absent bass section. Critics loved it, and Sleater-Kinney had eternally proved that they were more than just a flash in the pan. They were the epitome of punk in a post-punk era.

1997 marked the release of Dig Me Out, a salacious and brilliant break-up album that refused to become lost in it’s own tragedy. Looking outward instead of inward, the group drew influence from rock and rollers like The Kinks and The Beatles to put together a sharp, shifting record that dealt with layers of heartbreak, feminism and gender roles. It was followed by The Hot Rock, which saw the band into the new millennium with style; a moodier, more introspective piece that proved that Sleater-Kinney weren’t stuck in teenage angst. It was a big change for the threesome, who had stepped down the balls-to-the-wall energy of their previous outings to make way for a more focused, relaxed affair.

All Hands on The Bad One, released in 2000, marked a marriage of their nineties sounds in one, cohesive bundle. Veering between the big, ballsy, bellowing punk rock that had defined the earlier part of their career and softer, more melodic tracks, the new decade marked a new era for Sleater-Kinney. It holds together beautifully as an entire piece of music and as a collection of tracks, with each verse and chorus constructed carefully to be certain of an album that reflected the band’s musical maturity.

There’s two more albums to cover before their 2007-2013 hiatus, and the first is One Beat. It’s the kind of record that makes you sad that they ever had to go on a break, because they were so clearly hitting their swaggering, obnoxiously clever stride with One Beat. Dealing with topics from terrorism to motherhood, nothing is toned down but everything is streamlined. The second is the borderline-psyhadelic trip of The Woods, which marked their last musical exploration until last year.

Judging by the singles released from No Cities to Love, the new album–due out next month–harks back to the days when they could effortlessly and joyously mix punk and rock into the kind of compulsive candy you never want to stop eating. “Bury Our Friends” and “Surface Envy” are living, breathing, proof that the riot grrrl attitude never dies, as long as there’s someone there to stick that adrenalin needle into its heart. Sleater-Kinney are, without a doubt, the only ones I’d trust wielding that needle.

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Hat Tips:

metroactive, Soundcloud, Image Credit: Flickr

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