Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Album Review: Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love

Indie rock has become a cliche, since it is no longer underground, nor particularly rooted in actual rock music.  Indie rock is, nowadays, a conglomerate of whatever hipster notions are currently playing out, a trend-chasing variety of music that wraps the corporate sell-out attitude in the veneer of being 'unique'.  It isn't, and the attitude taken by indie rock bands today is, quite frankly, insulting on every level.  If they were being honest, they would tell us that they are really pop bands that don't want to admit their true identities, but that would require a level of introspection they are mostly incapable of.

But the fact that indie rock is such a formidable genre owes a massive debt to Sleater-Kinney, the punk-tinged rockers who are one fo the very few bands who originated in the 90s who rightfully deserve to claim they have established a legacy.

And in yet another example of an odd phenomenon, Sleater-Kinney has only grown more popular and important since in the years since what was believed to be their last album, defying all odds.  Simply put, music needs Sleater-Kinney at this point in time far more than they need music.

"No Cities To Love" is the band's first album in nearly a decade, but nothing about it sounds like a band struggling to come back together.  The time away has not dulled their sharp songwriting sense.  If anything, their experiences away from the band have honed their skills into more precise weapons, as "No Cities To Love" is the most tuneful Sleater-Kinney record yet.  There is still plenty of attitude and vitriol, but it's wrapped up in prettier packages, trojan horses that make it easier for the band to hit you over the head with their message.

For years, the main criticism of the band was that listening to their music could be a bit of a chore, because of the shrill nature of the vocals.  Whether a choice of style or age, the rough edges have been sanded off, leaving the songs as punky bursts of catchy fury, the kind of songs that veery closer to pop territory than the band has ever explored before, even though no one could rightfully call this pop music.

Corrin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein still play snaky, angular guitars that circle around a straight beat like a wary animal surveying its prone prey, with leads that are howling like the solos of the late Jeff Hanneman of Slayer.  They could be considered ugly, but when sitting alongside the (dare I say it) beautiful melodies, everything fits together in a neat package.  The harmonies on the title track are striking in their power, and when "No Anthems" juxtaposes the lyric with the most anthematic song on the album, it's clear that Sleater-Kinney is in full control.

From top to bottom, "No Cities To Love" is a taut collection of gritty rock songs that know how to leave an impact.  By dialing back the angst just a bit, the songcraft is able to shine through the emotion, which lets them hit that much harder.  These aren't songs that can be written off as angry shouting.  These are real songs, they're great songs, and "No Cities To Love" shows Sleater-Kinney somehow rising from the ashes a better band than they've ever been.  That's an impressive feat.