September 19, 2002

One Beat Ahead of the Game

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Riot grrl indie-rockers Sleater-Kinney continue marching to the One Beat of their own drums in their newest release. Staying true to alternative feminist punk-pop form, the trio instills defiance and aggressive energy into every aspect of their music. Forget the idea that songs should be crafted to be pleasing to the ear in both content and melody. These women shatter such conventions of musical propriety with their recipe for loud guitars, pounding drums, and lyrics that are raw and imperfect.

Like its punk predecessors, the early ’90s riot grrl movement was spawned out of rebellion, mainly to challenge the notion that female musicians must be sweet, unthreatening artists who sing of sad, unrequited love and subdued personal angst — a prototype typified by more popular and better received musicians such as Sarah McLachlan and Jewel of the Lilith Fair persuasion. Riot grrls weren’t out to please and lull fans; they were out to wreak havoc and liberate themselves of restricting paradigms with their defeaning tunes of discordant, yet electrifying, riffs and beats. Sleater-Kinney started off in this manner but attained more mainstream acceptance with their gradual progression into a more refined and catchier style, and One Beat happens to be their most touched-up and produced album yet.

From start to finish, One Beat maintains the same high note. The title track and opener immediately lays out the groundwork of the bold musical artistry that threads all the songs together. The striking juxtaposition of drummer Janet Weiss’s syncopated beats and the incendiary gusts of the electric guitar blends into an amalgamation of sound that serves to induce an adrenaline rush in the listener. This high is even further provoked by Carrie Brownstein’s passionate, guttural voice bursting forth, “I’m a bubble in a sound wave/ A sonic push for energy/ Exploding like the sun.”

Sleater-Kinney isn’t afraid to simply demonstrate their nonconformist tendencies in the areas of musical composition. They also make a gutsy show of it in the political nature of their lyrics, as expressed in the words of “Far Away” and “Combat Rock.” In these two tracks, the group protests and questions the intense patriotism and xenophobia overtaking the nation, an audacious move that showcases the group’s daring radical fearlessness in an environment that overwhelmingly pressures us to share the nationalistic sentiment in the aftermath of 9-11.

Because Sleater-Kinney is a bit restricted to the staple loud-electric-guitar-and-drum combination of girl power punkdom, One Beat might appear to consist of the same noisy drone to a listener wanting some variety. More pop-oriented audiences would appreciate the upbeat and uplifting tones of “Oh!,” which has the happy frivolity of a New Wave ’80s tune complete with infectious, head-bobbing hooks. However, what they lack in compositional variety, Sleater-Kinney makes up in their passionate drive to voice and melodically embody the emotions of their politics and other sentiments. You can’t help but be caught up and carried away in the energy of the One Beat that goes on.

Archived article by Sherry Jun