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Hilltops
Hartwick College's Student Newspaper

The View From Oyaron Hill

Music Review: Sleater-Kinney, "No Cities to Love"

03.08.16


Charlie Feher-Peiker


Returning from an almost 10 year hiatus Sleater-Kinney is back, reviving the sound and fury of Riot Grrrl! punk-rock to remind us that third-wave feminism is still burning as hot as it was in 1995.


Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss of Olympia, Washington punk-rock group Sleater-Kinney have been recording together since 1997 and have just released their seventh album, titled “No Cities to Love.” With their searing attacks on gender inequality, their pointed remarks on consumer culture and catalyzing anthems for an underrepresented demographic, the grownup punk rockers from the cradle of feminist punk have shown once again that they have the words, the drive and the volume to keep putting out some of the best rock and roll, ever: feminist or otherwise.


Since their earliest days Sleater-Kinney has been a major part of the 1990’s feminist-punk, Riot Grrrl! and contemporary feminist movements. As students at The Evergreen State College, Brownstein and Tucker cut their eponymous first album before they had even finished school. And this wasn’t the first album for either of them. Before coming together to form Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and Tucker were recording with pioneering groups Excuse 17 and Heavens to Betsy respectively. Though they are mostly unknown to the mainstream, their influence, lofty critical acclaim, and far-reaching involvement in everything from feminism, to LGBTQ+ rights activism has helped them transcend what might otherwise be a restricting position in the world of male dominated Rock’N’Roll.


Though the politics of Sleater-Kinney has remained pretty much unchanged since 1995 –an intense focus on sexism, sexual assault and the struggles of women– their outlook and range of topics has expanded to include the realities of adult life. “I scramble eggs for little legs” Tucker, a mother of two, sings on the track, “Price Tag,” a song about a single mother struggling to get by, while working a minimum wage job to support her family. But even though, “No Cities to Love” includes themes of settled down, family life, it still retains its youthful, raw, Riot-Grrrl!, punk intensity.


Sleater-Kinney has always been on the fringe. Like the Velvet-Underground, none of the members of Sleater-Kinney broke into the mainstream until after they left the band. Since Sleater-Kinney disbanded in 2005 after their sixth album “The Woods” came out, Carrie Brownstein found herself in the middle of modern pop-culture as co-creator of the award winning sketch comedy show Portlandia, with former SNL star Fred Armisen.

As punks, however, being outside the norm was part of the job description. But Sleater-Kinney was always just a little more outside of the norm in a male dominated rock and roll culture. Separating Sleater-Kinney from most other rock bands is Sleater-Kinney’s rare, all girl lineup and their very early departure from the standard Guitar, Bass, Drums, Rock-band setup. Though wildly successful bands like the White Stripes and The Black Keys, recently popularized the guitar-drum Rock model, Sleater-Kinney began experimenting with the format years before. Sleater-Kinney’s absence of a bass guitar and any instrumentation besides guitar and drums produces an interestingly sharp intensity which, contrary to assumptions of such an instrument lineup, never makes their sound lacking in dimension.


Both Tucker and Brownstein play the guitar and Weiss plays drums and their music is overflowing with sonic levels. With a noisy lead guitar sound, reminiscent of 1990’s compatriots: My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Black Flag, Brownstein’s acutely angled guitar riffs stab at the ears of the listener while being driven from below by Weiss’ door-splitting rhythms. Filling out the sound, Tucker’s howling vocals and crunchy, fuzzed out rhythm guitar allude to the band’s 1990’s, North Western, grunge era origins, but mercifully, spare the listener another washed-up, lukewarm leftover of the age of Nirvana. Unlike the under-talented, overhyped, male holdovers of the grunge explosion (I’m talking about you: Creed, Switchfoot and Nickleback), Sleater-Kinney is and always has been, loud, sharp, original and unashamed. Only now, they are 20 years older and wiser.


20 years is a long time to be in the business of Rock’N’Roll. As the only original Riot Grrrl! group still going from the Olympia scene, Sleater-Kinney is ready to pass the torch to the next generation of young feminist musicians. As such, they came off of their “indefinite hiatus” for one more album, to inspire a new generation of punk rockers and pass on the collected knowledge of a lifetime of rock and roll activism.


“No Cities to Love” is an album full of slogans and anthems. “No one here is taking notice” Brownstein refrains in the anthemic, “A New Wave,” “No outline will ever hold us… eyes are the only witness, Die to prove we ever lived this.” This song is followed by the manifesto “Bury Our Friends,” throughout which the lyric “Exhume our idols, bury our friends. We’re wild and weary, but we won’t give in,” repeats like a protestors chant. “No Cities to Love,” is a call to action. A public appeal for young people to take up the mantle of the feminist fight and carry it forward to wherever sex based discrimination, inequality and injustice still exist, continuing the fight to deconstruct the archaic institutions of the patriarchy; finishing what the Riot-Grrrl!s started two decades ago.