December 2, 2015

TEST SPIN: Sleater Kinney—No Cities To Love

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Sleater-Kinney, the radical DIY punk rock trio hailing from the riot grrrl scene of Olympia, Washington, was a defining group in rock and roll throughout the nineties and early 2000’s. Punk queens Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein (star of IFC’s Portlandia) got their start at Evergreen College screaming about various isms, and subsequently developed into one of the most acclaimed all-female rock groups of all time.

Their notorious hiatus finally came to an end after nine years last Tuesday with the release of their eighth studio album No Cities To Love: a hiatus which has paralleled debatably some of the most precarious years for the genre of rock and roll in history. To make one thing clear, rock is not dead — the click-bait eulogizing of entire musical genres being one of the worse hobbies of pseudo-intellectual music bloggers but it has undeniably taken on new shapes in recent years. However, the girls are back in town and No Cities To Love takes us back to a more political and arguably a more dynamic moment in rock and roll, in disarmingly inventive ways.

In keeping with the band’s historical brand of social consciousness, the album engages with liberal, anti-material, queercore and feminist themes, but it is first a rock album, and then a protest album. Their politics take a back seat to the the groups electric, feminine chemistry and don’t overwhelm the quality of the album — its taut construction, robust vocal energy, slamming lyrical poetics, catchy choruses and riffs and bright, burning instrumentals.

The sentiments of many of the tracks — pleas to authenticity and consciousness and warnings about the high costs of submitting to rat race or a mundane technology and social media infused coma, as well as insights to struggles of the American working class family — are often tired ones, but Sleater-Kinney delivers them with a creative freshness in their lyrics that makes them not only listenable, but compelling. Forgo your eye rolls for the old-school change-the-world/fuck-the-man rock trope because No Cities To Love possesses an acrid humor that’s dry and cynical without being caustic or insincere, and it blends gorgeously with their passionate political stylings.

Highlight songs include the album’s title track “Cities To Love,” which is bright and danceable with a strong beat and a catchy, sardonic chorus. “It’s not the city, it’s the weather we love,” offers an ode to the fast-lane touring life of their pre-hiatus career. The faster-paced “Price Tag,” features a delicious and nostalgic, dark, disenchanted feminist punch and bears this ominous final lyric “I was lured by the devil, I was lured by the cause… I’ll take God when I’m ready I’ll choose sin till I leave.”

The album is far more accessible than most of their discography, which includes several hard core combat rock and screamo albums. That being said, on No Cities To Love, Sleater-Kinney stays true to their punk, riot grrrl roots. Lead singer, Corin Tucker doesn’t have the high pitched scream of Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna but her emotive vocals, which have been described as “love them or hate them” evoke a similar, if softer sound. However, she has serious range, switching rapidly from track to track, and sometimes within a song, from cutting angry screams to coy spoken lines, to creepy whispers, to a softer more melodic singing voice. The brute force and blaring punk siren is all there, but the group’s sound has matured into something simultaneously refined and raw, and totally thrilling for the listener. Basically, if Sleater-Kinney has anything to do with it, rock and roll is doing just fine.

Jael Goldfine is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Objectivity Bites appears alternate Thursdays this semester.