After a ten-year hiatus, this month Sleater-Kinney is releasing their eighth album, No Cities to Love, on Sub Pop Records. When news of the new album broke last fall, Sleater-Kinney fans across the world rejoiced. Over the past two decades, the band has amassed a dedicated following. Fans’ love of Sleater-Kinney is fervent and contagious.
When Sleater-Kinney started playing the early 1990s, for many of us the band’s sound was something we’ve never heard before. Corin Tucker’s powerful wailing voice, Carrie Brownstein’s wailing guitar riffs, Janet Weiss’s precisely wailing drum beats—the way they all worked together was the sound of a genre we couldn’t quite define, the sound of a generation that didn’t want to be defined. We didn’t quite fit in completely with one thing or another, and neither did Sleater-Kinney. They carved their own sound and to the punks, the geeks, the loners, the creative kids, the feminists, the queers, and the confused, it shaped who we became. Just as Brownstein sings in “A New Wave” on No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney created a “a new kind of obscurity.”
There’s something about this Corin-Carrie-Janet trifecta that creates a powerful energy. It wakes something up inside us, reminding listeners that we can do the things we want to do. Hearing Sleater-Kinney’s new album, I feel like I have the strength to create, to belt out songs, to beat on drums, to rip it on guitars, and to jump up and down on stage.
During their hiatus, each member of Sleater-Kinney continued to experiment creatively and work on the things they love. Not only did their fans grow during the past decade, but we got to watch Carrie, Corin and Janet grow with us. Carrie became an actor (is it sacrilegious to say that I enjoy her much more in Transparent than Portlandia o_O?), Corin helmed a new band and raised two children, Janet drummed all over the place in various bands. All of these new experiences gave Sleater-Kinney a new story to tell.
The new album opens explosively with “Price Tag,” which sets the tone for the rest of the album. The 10 songs on No Cities to Love are jam-packed with a more mature version of Sleater-Kinney’s signature sound: they’re fun and catchy with a cleaner, more organized kind of chaos. Their voices sound stronger than ever. The guitars seamlessly dance and chase each melody. Brownstein’s guitar riffs sound almost like St. Vincent. The drums bang out a solid and steady stride of confidence. Sleater-Kinney took something that worked for them a decade ago and refined it to still sound relevant.
In the title track “No Cities to Love,” Brownstein laments “I’ve grown afraid of everything that I love,” reminding us that the things we love aren’t always the easiest to face. In the past, Brownstein has been open in interviews about her struggles with anxiety, stating that the band’s final tour tour promoting The Woods was more of a tour of hospital emergency rooms. The fact that Brownstein is ready to take another tour head on speaks volumes of their growth together. Is that anxiety still present or has all the experience Carrie has under her belt given her a renewed sense of confidence? Either way, it is humbling and inspiring to know that even our heroes have fears.
Before you know it, the album is over. The whole 10-song album is just over 30 minutes long and closes with “Fade,” a slower moving song that picks up midway with elements of voice distortions and ends with a trailing guitar.
So what does this new album mean? In one way, No Cities to Love is an album to bridge the gap between generations. Its a chance for today’s young punks to know what its like to be excited about a Sleater-Kinney release and be able to apply the songs and the lyrics to life as it’s happening. Also, the album is a continuation of all the things we knew all along. Its a reminder to those of us who have been long time Sleater-Kinney fans that our creative lives don’t end, they transition into various projects with many different collaborators along the way. You can always go back to the projects you started in the past. You can take breaks from things to seek out other pursuits to develop your skills, find other influences, and refine your voice.
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