January 23, 2015

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Peter Holslin needs a new pair of Sauconys

I remember being at some guy’s house some time in the early ’00s. It was San Diego somewhere. It was around 9 o’clock at night, quiet, in a big house where loud music was bound to reverberate off the hardwood floors. I noticed a copy of Sleater-Kinney’s 1999 record The Hot Rock sitting in a box of LPs. Suddenly I was cueing it up on the turntable and the sleepy calm was rudely interrupted as the Olympia trio rose up out of the speakers—snapping beat, spindly guitars, Corin Tucker with her unmistakable warbling cry.

“Uh, you should probably turn that off,” the guy told me. “It’s pretty loud.”

No matter how supposedly open-minded you were hanging around with early-’00s indie kids, Sleater-Kinney were bound to knock you on your ass. They were simultaneously unpretentious and insurrectionary, too rockin’ for the hardcore punk zealots, too real for the emo boys and totally on another planet from the disco-punks. For anyone paying attention to indie music, they were one of those bands that was just part of the ether, a name you always had in the back of your mind, until of course you dropped the needle and then they’d come out thrashing.

Sleater-Kinney released a new album this week, No Cities to Love. It’s their first in 10 years, and out of the previous seven full-length efforts, it might be their catchiest and brawniest yet. The title track is almost jaunty, anchored by a tuneful guitar line that could get a little dance party going as it dips down into the bass register. Make no mistake, though, these are some badass women. Janet Weiss throws down on drums with forward propulsion. Singer/guitarists Tucker and Carrie Brownstein are conjuring nasty tones with their six-strings, all while contrasting chunky riffs with brazen guitar licks. “Hey Darling” makes for a celebratory listen. “Surface Envy” is pure energy, the opening line descending down the scale like it’s the burning wick of an M80.

“Bury Our Friends” is a post-punk anthem that switches from an off-kilter groove into something much more driving, the trio defiantly brushing off anxieties about growing older: “Exhume our idols, bury our friends / We’re wild and weary but we won’t give in.”

Whether about creativity, stardom or life in general, you can detect a lot of self-reflection on No Cities to Love. Amidst the dreamy vibes of closer “Fade,” they talk about making the most of what time there is left: “If there’s no tomorrow / You better live.” And on “A New Wave,” they upturn the table with a sidewinder guitar line and grab hold of a potent love: “No one here is taking notice / No outline will ever hold us / It’s not a new wave, it’s just you and me.”

No Cities to Love reminds me what it really means to be an independent artist. Sleater-Kinney stands apart not just from the mainstream, but also from the scenesters. They transcend hype, image, social media metrics, fleeting scene cred and get right to the core. And now that they’re back, they’re challenging themselves as much as others.

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