It would be a shame if the legacy of Washington state indie punk trio Sleater-Kinney
is known to the current generation simply because of guitarist Carrie Brownstein’s hit comedy television show Portlandia
. The first impression of No Cities to Love
, released on Subpop tomorrow, immediately quells that notion, however.
Two decades of musical creation – albeit interrupted by a six-year hiatus in the late ‘00s – has obviously helped the three-piece smooth and hone their punk sensibilities. A hugely influential band in the indie, punk and riot grrrl
communities, SK helped put the Pacific Northwest on the musical map in the mid-‘90s. Even while on hiatus, the band’s influence on modern music was undeniable. Modern bands like Screaming Females
, Dum Dum Girls
, and Bleached
are more than obviously influenced by the cohesive force of Sleater-Kinney. Furthermore, their legend will – barring dramatic circumstances – remain intact simply for the fact that they took a hiatus simply because they needed time to take a damned hiatus. There were no unnecessary excuses or reasons given for their departure from the scene from 2006 until 2013. And with their return, they weren’t shouting their re-arrival from rooftops and puffing up their egos. They simply came back, let other music enthusiasts tout their talent for them, and went right back to making phenomenal music.
During their years apart, several impressive bands formed from the split pieces of Sleater-Kinney. Wild Flag
and the creatively-named The Corin Tucker Band
both jumped to the forefront of the indie-punk-grrrl genre, yet still fell just short of the presence that SK is able to provide. Thankfully so. Perhaps without outside creative endeavors, there might not be the desire to “put the band back together.”
No Cities to Love
is SK’s first album in a decade, and definitely sounds as cohesive and impressive as the hype that has preceded it. Their sonic footprint hasn’t diminished even slightly, with Brownstein’s growling lead guitar providing precisely the feedback, distortion and aggressiveness that even a novice Sleater-Kinney fan can recognize. Tucker’s vocals haven’t suffered even slightly in her 20+ years as a musician. And what can be said about a drummer? The sign of a truly successful and impressive percussionist is the ability for he listener to not even realize they’re there. In that sense, Janet Weiss makes herself continually and invisibly successful throughout the album.
With only 10 tracks and an average song length of just a hair over three minutes, there is not a single unnecessary moment on No Cities to Love
. Quite the contrary, it provides just enough moments of enjoyability and sonic brilliance to really grab the listener’s attention. Without coming across as completely pompous and self-important, please enjoy the following track-by-track breakdown of the album.
“Price Tag” is a very traditional introductory track for an album of this magnitude. It could absolutely stand on its own merit on a record by a less-established band. Here, though, it just briefly touches on all the things SK does well.
“Fangless” is anything but. Starting out with gorgeous guitar-picking and utilizing Tucker’s signature vocal chops, this track comes across as extremely polished, especially for a band that relies on their stripped-down sound – but certainly not in a bad way.
“Surface Envy” is very Sleater-Kinney. By the time Tucker’s vocals kick in at 20 seconds in, there’s no denying that this is a SK album.
“No Cities to Love” is fairly vanilla for a title track. Are there more impressive songs on the album? Yes. But is this still better than a vast majority of the SK imitators out there? You better believe it.
“A New Wave” is the poppiest track on No Cities to Love
. It’s easily the grrrliest song here.
Give a listen to “No Anthems” and you’ll absolutely see the type of song that The Kills
pull their influence from.
“Gimme Love” is the shortest track on the album. Listen to the first 15 seconds and you’ll see why. It just never turns the corner in the way that the songs that bookend it do.
“Bury Our Friends”, the first single released from the album, is a goliath. Corin Tucker’s vocals in particular offer a fantastic drive and complement to the beautifully punchy guitar work provided by Brownstein. (If I had to listen to this track on repeat for a week straight, it likely wouldn’t result in a murderous rampage.)
“Hey Darling” is a short, upbeat, slightly jazzy, and entirely fun journey that showcases the individual components of Sleater-Kinney. Need a brief introduction to the band? Start with “Bury Our Friends”, but definitely jump to this track next.
“Fade” is an epic tour of rhythm guitar, harmonization, tribal percussion, and soaring vocals. A beautiful conclusion to the album.
Stretching No Cities to Love
beyond ten tracks would likely be trying too hard for such an influential and established band’s first album in 10 years. Plus, songs that extend beyond the three-minute mark are seen as trying too hard in this very finicky genre. Besides, true punk is fast, hard and in your face. An album by Sleater-Kinney that’s only 32:17 in total and the fact that it’s listenable from top to bottom? That’s a fantastic thing.