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coverpic flag US - Washington - Full Moon 226 - 02/04/15

Sleater-Kinney
No Cities to Love
Sub Pop Records

And... it's back to femmes-steered, wild and wonderful art punk. To quote Sub Pop Records when they first launched the news about this record: 'You should probably sit down. Are you sitting? Good, then you're ready for this: Sleater-Kinney are releasing No Cities to Love, their first album in ten years and most explosive collection of songs to date'. Yes, it's been ten years since three-headed feminist rock unit Sleater-Kinney put out their last album, namely The Woods (Sub Pop, 2005). Then the band took on a hiatus, a break before they reunited in 2014 to do No Cities to Love.

Sleater-Kinney formed in Olympia, Washington in 1994, and the band became a key part of the indie rock circus and the riot grrrl scene - counting Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, Calamity Jane, Team Dresch, Huggy Bear (from the UK) and several more - (mainly located) in the Pacific Northwest of the US. Sleater-Kinney are/were Corin Tucker (vocals, guitars), Carrie Brownstein (guitars, guitars), and Janet Weiss (drums, percussion, backing vocals). Since the band took a break in 2010, Brownstein and her Sleater-Kinney colleague Janet Weiss have been part of the band Wild Flag along with Mary Timony (vocals, guitar) and Rebecca Cole (keyboards, backing vocals). The latter two are ex-members of the groups Helium and The Minders. Wild Flag released their self-titled debut album in September last year. Before Slater-Kinney started, Tucker was a member of another DIY riot grrrl movement band in Olympia, WA, Heavens to Betsy (1991-1994). Weiss joined Sleater-Kinney in 1996 and was first heard on their third album, Dig Me Out (Kill Rock Stars, 1997). In prior to entering Sleater-Kinney, Weiss formed Quasi with Sam Coomes in 1993 (hey, they are still active). Weiss has also been the drummer for Stephen Malkmus' The Jicks and she has contributed to/performed with The Shins, Bright Eyes, The Go-Betweens, Elliott Smith and others. During the years 1994 and 2005 the band released seven studio albums before announcing their break in 2006. Reason: for devoting themselves to other projects, such as: Brownstein has starred (alongside co-developer and actor Fred Armisen. He is a musician and a comedian as well, from the Drag City stable) in the popular and acclaimed satirical TV-series Portlandia, which premiered in 2011 and recently started its fifth season). And, yes, Weiss is even part of Portlandia's production team. Tucker has released two albums with the Corin Tucker Band (a band counting musicians such as Unwound's drummer Sara Lund and The Jicks' bassist Mike Clark), 1,000 Years (2010) and Kill My Blues (2012). Both released on the Kill Rock Stars (KRS) label.

I wasn't too impressed with their fifth album, All Hands on the Bad One (KRS, 2000), and I didn't even check out their last two records, One Beat (KRS, 2002) and The Woods. Now it is time to dig into No Cities to Love, which has been hailed by most critics/magazine to the stars and beyond. The album opens with "Price Tag", and there are aggression and some certain attitude present from the very beginning - from the first tone, the first note, the first hit. This track and the rest of the songs unveil some frantic, punchy rock from the first second. Weiss is an indeed good and steady drummer. The guitars bite, and on top there is a vocal snarl coming at you. The ladies are all over the place, and they will not let you rest and relax. The ten tracks clock in at some 32 minutes, and they make a powerful rock album. Punching at you, dragging and pulling your senses and emotions. At first listen, "No Anthems", the weight of the other songs and the weight of the band and their message, steps forward saying: we are serious about our rock thing! No Cities to Love recorded their new record in top secret in San Francisco (with additional sessions in Portland and in Seattle) in early 2014. Well, they did good, and they have managed to keep the spirit from their early days. They sound fresh, tiptoe ready and hungry. They are both playful and devilish with their sound, their songs. Like Carrie Brownstein put it when describing the process and the recording of the music leading to No Cities...: 'We sound possessed on these songs, willing it all - the entire weight of the band and what it means to us - back into existence.'

The sound and spirit of Sleater-Kinney make me recall the first line of feminist post-punk/new wave bands from the UK, such as X-Ray Spex, The Slits, Au Pairs, The Raincoats, Delta 5 to name but a few. Later (from the late 1980s) there were Throwing Muses, the more laidback, moody and spherical Belly, the more dazed and fuzzed, power-poppy The Breeders, the wild Free Kitten (who were Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon plus Pussy Galore's Julie Cafritz), and the more quiet Containe (who were Fontaine Toups from Versus, with her musical friend Connie Lovatt, who's a veteran of many little bands including Alkaline and the Pacific Ocean), plus the Deal/Donnelly sisterhood gang and their line of spin-off bands (such as The Amps, Dusty Trails, The Kelley Deal 6000, etc.). There were also a number of other alternative bands starting out back in the late 80s, peaking in the early 90s (several from the grunge-punk track): Blake Babies, L7, Babes in Toyland, Hole, 7 Year Bitch, Lunachicks and more. But, mind you, some of the latter names were mostly into boy-ish (as in wild 'rock boy') behaviour.

No Cities to Love sounds armed and ready, with songs sneering at you, kicking at you, and with the lady threesome highly loaded with energy and stamina. They are armed and dangerous. Well, maybe not dangerous themselves (and they certainly don't sound dangerous during "Hey Darling", even though it's got a biting, scratching attitude), but the unit and the unity of the songs for sure kick, roll and stomp with a cheerful grin. Chemistry is the keyword, I guess. To quote Tucker 'The core of this record is our relationship to each other, to the music, and how all of us still felt strongly enough to about those to sweat it out in the basement and to try and reinvent our band. With No Cities to Love, we went for the jugular.' Or, like Brownstein put it: 'This band requires a certain desperation, a direness.' Listen to "Fangless" and you learn that they do have have some grasping fangs. Check out the whip of the catchy "Surface Envy", or the quick-step, poppy and the biting guitar riffs of "A New Wave". The title track is one of their calmer pieces this time around, while "No Anthems" is simply magnificent. It is a stand out track (alongside "Bury Our Friends"), which sort of sums up all there is about Sleater-Kinney. Like MOJO magazine said about the album: 'these songs sound fired up rather than microwaved, present in the moment rather than raking over the past.' The album is not flawless, but as a whole it is a triumphant return. You should also check out our live report and short conversation with Corin and Janet when they visited Cologne back in 2000 (Mary Timony being the opening act).

Like they sing in "A New Wave": 'No one here is taking notice, No outline will ever hold us / It's not a new wave, It's just you and me'. It is them and you - the listener. It is not a new wave; it is just a new wave of Sleater-Kinney power-punch.

Copyright © 2015 H. Coreøyen e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Sleater-Kinney articles/reviews: All Hands On The Bad One, Live in Cologne, Germany, 20.07.2000.

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