Sleater-Kinney is an important band for a lot of people. Coming from influential riot-grrl acts Heavens to Betsy & Excuse 17, Corin Tucker & Carrie Brownstein began playing together in 1994, adding Janet Weiss a few years later, crafting a legacy and becoming one of the most celebrated indie rock bands of the last 20 years. Coming back together after a nearly 10 year hiatus (or breakup, whichever you prefer,) they aren’t coming back as quite the same band. Sure, by 2006 they had branched far beyond the underground punk scene they sprung out of, playing major music festivals and touring with acts like Pearl Jam. And in 2015, after Carrie Brownstein’s tenure on the sketch-comedy program Portlandia, they are bonafide celebrities. This past week they gave an interview with the women behind the comedy series Broad City and put out an arguably cloying music video featuring TV stars such as Connie Britton & Andy Samberg singing along to the title track of their new record. Sleater-Kinney have returned to the cultural landscape in a slightly different spot from where they were when they called it quits almost a decade ago. The question that remains, is how that has affected their music.
Sleater-Kinney has always been consistent in the sense that each album often sounds dramatically different from its predecessor. The understated and lovely “The Hot Rock” followed the emotional-punk powerhouse of Dig Me Out, and 2002’s dramatic, political One Beat was followed by the sprawling classic psych rock sounds of The Woods. No Cities To Love follows in that tradition, sounding fitting and familiar from what we’ve come to expect from the band, while also sounding not quite like anything the band has made yet.
On No Cities To Love, the trio made the smart decision of taking a direct and forceful approach. The 32-minute album is their shortest and tightest yet, containing no filler. The band chose to eschew the softer tracks and ballads they excel at as well, making the album a direct onslaught of forceful indie rock, miles ahead of what their peers are making. The album’s brevity hits that nice midpoint of being just enough to be satisfying while also leaving the listener wanting more.
While not inscrutable, No Cities to Love rewards as you spend more time with it, as you delve into the intricate play of Corin & Carrie’s twisted guitar lines. The two sound perfectly in sync with each other, trading licks back and forth that are wild but never off-putting. All this is backed up by Weiss’s tremendous drumming skills, which have only gotten better in the past ten years.
Then there’s the wild, tangled “Fade” that closes out the album, which closes the album with the line “If we are truly dancing our swan song, darling/let’s shake it like never before.” It’s a dramatic moment that shows that the band knows this could be the end, and want to make a defining statement. As a whole, No Cities To Love trounces expectations and holds up as one of the best the band has made to date. While they may be bigger celebrities than they were 10 years ago, they remain just as vital creatively, using the time away to craft a masterpiece that could easily be a contender for album of the year by December. It’s great to have Sleater-Kinney back, and if they choose not to continue past this, they picked a hell of an album to go out on.
David Sackllah is a Houston-based music writer who has contributed to The Daily Texan, Do512 and Houston Press. He can be found on Twitter at @dsackllah