When Sleater-Kinney released their magnum opus The Woods in 2005, many figured that the album’s breadth, especially the 11-minute psychedelic experimentalism on “Let’s Call It Love”, signified the band’s final explosion of cathartic release and the subsequent disbanding seemed to show a group who had nothing left to deliver to the world. However, 2014 was a year of classic artists coming out of the woodwork to surprise fans, and with the release of a career spanning box-set, Sleater-Kinney looked to set to join that trend. Fortunately, this wasn’t just a cash grab. Kinney still maintain a relevance today, partly due to the current feminist climate but largely due to their expert song craft, and neither of these have declined since they burst onto the punk scene 20 years ago.
In the nine years since their last release, the band has embarked on many side ventures, some more profitable than others. Corin Tucker took to releasing solo albums, Carrie Brownstein moved into television (perhaps more famous for her role in Portlandia than her musical career these days) and Janet Weiss began playing with a diverse array of artists such as Bright Eyes and Stephen Malkmus, as well as starting her own band with Brownstein; Wild Flag. Naturally, it appeared that a reunion album may not have been able to reclaim the triumphs of their original seven-album run. But this is Sleater-Kinney: a band who have rebelled against expectations time and time again.
The trio’s tight and unified sound still remains one of the greatest examples of a band’s potential to act as a solitary unit whilst providing solid interplay and rebounding instrumentation. To combat the distinct lack of a bass guitar, a traditional punk rock necessity, Tucker and Brownstein make up the lower end of their sound by experimenting with heavy tunings and fuzzy distortion, amply supplying dizzying levels of intense attitude to their sound. Tucker’s voice still cuts through however, supplying another melody through the use of her weighty high register.
The album’s lead single “Bury Our Friends” featuring Miranda July, is a fine example of Tucker and Brownstein’s use of melodic vocals and is tinged with expert lyricism, expounding a resistance to age and death through the desire for the immortality granted by fame. The song itself typifies the comparatively slower style employed by Sleater-Kinney across No Cities to Love. This change in pace does not mean a sacrifice of the trio’s raucous aggression and beguiling charm however, rather such aspects have been expanded.
From the opening track “Price Tag“, it is clear that the aggressively leftist politics that Kinney have consistently preached have made a pertinent comeback. An anti-consumerist and occasionally Marxist vibe punctuates the track, packing poignancy in its reflection of the dark underbelly of the modern world’s wage slaves. Across the record as a whole, the traditional feminine virtues drawn upon by a large number of female artists are eschewed, in favour of head-on confidence and directly political themes.
However, there are moments of obliquity and even darkness within the lyrics. The mediocrity of fame, the drudgery of the system they have adjusted to and the enjoyment that rebellious music can offer, affords the band a contemporary edge that distinguishes them as bona fide punk pioneers with compelling views and ideas. This modernization is further evident in the embracing of pop and new wave approaches as evidenced on the penultimate “Hey Darling“; a song that harks back to classic new wave acts such as Blondie, while being firmly rooted in the current trend of all female rock powerhouses (Savages, Warpaint and Ex Hex to name a few).
Thus, after an extended hiatus, Sleater-Kinney return to competently prove women’s place in rock music, and with the slow decline of female marginalization in the arts, the need for groups like Kinney is stronger than ever. No Cities To Love is just another record that implicitly contests the machismo of rock, and this can only be a good thing when more inclusivity in the industry allows for more bands like Sleater-Kinney.