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Sleater-Kinney
No Cities To Love Melissa Steiner , January 21st, 2015 12:58

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If surprise albums are starting to seem de rigueur, I, for one, am glad that in this age of social media babble, there still exists the opportunity to get stupidly excited. Even better when the surprise album comes from one of your favourite bands you'd given up hope of ever hearing from again - 9 years is a long time after all.  The announcement in October 2014 that Sleater-Kinney had not only got back together without anyone realising but were also releasing their eighth studio album, No Cities To Love, stirred up a fervour of anticipation, sending music journalists scrambling for that old Greil Marcus quote about Sleater-Kinney being "the best band in the world".

Since the band's indefinite hiatus in 2006, all three members, guitarists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss have been busy; among other projects Carrie and Janet formed Wild Flag, and Corin The Corin Tucker Band. But Sleater-Kinney left a gap unfilled. The sonic alchemy the three create together is unique and their last album, The Woods, left fans on a high.

Anyone expecting a return to the prog leanings of The Woods may be surprised by No Cities To Love. Produced by John Goodmanson, who also produced four of Sleater-Kinney's earlier albums, the new album recalls the band's interest in pop hooks and is not shy of a chorus. While the tightly managed polish and control perhaps doesn't grab the heart in the visceral way of older Sleater-Kinney, an emotional urgency remains on this album, albeit conveyed with greater sophistication.

'Power' is an accurate description. Lyrically it appears often, many of the songs engaging with personal and collective struggle in a vapid, consumerist society; the propulsive opener 'Price Tag' an example of this. But it also manifests in the extraordinary voice of Corin Tucker. If she has burnished off the raw edges over the years, the force and largesse of it certainly has not diminished. She uses it to gutsy effect in 'Surface Envy', a celebration of solidarity with a rousing chorus that I don't think I'm completely off in saying could find a place during half-time at the big game: "we win, we lose, only together do we make the rules!", while 'No Anthems' has her toning it down to a sinister purr. Perhaps most interesting is the concluding track 'Fade', where the drama amps and Black Sabbath-style reverb is applied, giving way to camp rock opera recalling queercore band The Need's The Need Is Dead.

Carrie Brownstein's virtuoso guitar playing is also still very much in evidence, avoiding rock-god-predictability by virtue of the unexpected direction in which she takes it. This willingness to continue to experiment with traditional rock formula ensures that this album is not a nostalgic return to form, but gives the listener something completely new to chew on. One moment you'll be bopping around to the upbeat 'New Wave', the next, your fist will be in the air.

Contributing to the tough, bombastic sound to which Sleater-Kinney fans are now accustomed is Janet Weiss's deliberate half-time beat anchoring the first single, 'Bury Our Friends'. Unfortunately, this prominence is a rarity, much of the time the drums are lost in the mix, which is a shame given that the precision and intensity of Janet's drumming has always been one of the major joys of the band. Nevertheless, many elements of a classic Sleater-Kinney album are present here, in particular the intimacy of Carrie and Corin's interwoven guitar which Carrie has described as their vernacular.

There is also a newfound grandeur, fitting for a band who may have formed 20 years ago, but who have always carved out their own niche, always confidently pushed forward to reach new heights and tell a new story. As Corin sings on 'Surface Envy': "When we leave say goodbye to your old way of life/I can breathe way up high now it's our turn to fly". Welcome back, Sleater-Kinney.

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exterminatethehumanrace
Jan 21, 2015 4:57pm

"When we leave say goodbye to your old way of life/I can breathe way up high now it's our turn to fly"

Pretty sure these are lyrics from that old Vitamin C song about graduating from high school but hey who am I to correct any of the male music "journalists" currently slobbering all over this bullshit band of false feminist yodelers.

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Jan 21, 2015 5:26pm

^ he says commenting on a review written by 'Melissa'

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Jan 22, 2015 5:47am

Sorry, not a lot of time for nostalgia fetish here. They were great in their heyday, have no need for a brightly burnished self-congratulatory return to fields already tilled.

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Jan 22, 2015 5:49am

Should have reviewed the Viet Cong album instead.

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Crimewave
Jan 22, 2015 8:06am

Great review and a refreshing sound from Sleater Kinney. I always enjoy their experimental take on Rock.
Ps. What's up with the troll commenting on here?

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Jim
Jan 22, 2015 8:36am

I can't help but be disappointed by this album, it feels very disposable in comparison to The Woods. My high expectations for it haven't helped matters, it doesn't damage their legacy but I don't really think it adds to it either. I think its one that's going to get great reviews but is subsequently damned with faint praise when the year end lists come along.

They'll still be brilliant live though.

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Dave
Jan 22, 2015 12:46pm

Can't wait to pick this one up. I would say S-K is the best band of the last 20 years. This band has been dealing with the negativity and jealousy of their detractors ever since they started; nothing seems to faze them. Expect them to keep rocking.

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exterminatethehumanrace
Jan 22, 2015 4:16pm

In reply to :

Hey man I love Mercyful Fate too but idk how that is relevant to this discussion.

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Jan 23, 2015 12:02am

In reply to :

They did

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deadly_doris
Jan 23, 2015 5:21pm

after reading all the hype and was truly looking forward to this release and was incredibly disappointed. the greatest indie band of all time? don't think so considering you have the ultimate diy bands such as the fall and gbv that have contributed far more to music and being copied than sleater-kinney. call the doctor, dig me out and the woods are great recordings, but before they get such accolades as best american indie band of all time or greatest rock band, consider who came before them, x-ray spex and throwing muses that kicked down the door for female singers and yet they fall to the wayside.

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deadly_doris
Jan 24, 2015 1:26am

In reply to :

thanks for turning me on to viet cong!

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Iain Duncan Shit
Jan 25, 2015 3:53pm

In reply to :

I've heard the new Viet Cong LP.

It sounded like I was listening a warped copy of Porcupine with a fist-sized wad of fluff on the needle.

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Mike
Jan 26, 2015 5:06pm

In reply to deadly_doris:

I was also really looking forward to this release, as I have been a fan for 16 years. I even flew out to Portland to see them at what ended up being the final shows until this year. I was not disappointed at all with the new album. I love it, and my expectations were pretty high. I would pick The Hot Rock, One Beat, and The Woods as their masterpieces. I'm not sure if I'll end up liking No Cities as much as those (and bear in mind that each of those took time for me to completely get), but I already like it as well as the other albums. There are some surprising melodies and rhythms a la The Hot Rock fused with the attention to guitar tone and texture that made The Woods such an adventure...and yet this is very much its own thing. I can't wait to see them in April and hear the new stuff. And by the way, as important as X-Ray Spex and Throwing Muses are, they don't have Sleater-Kinney's catalog; they just don't. Seven great albums in a row? How many bands have done that? At the very least, S-K are among the very best rock has to offer.

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Liam
Jan 26, 2015 7:52pm

In reply to Mike:

It's eight great albums now if you ask me!

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Mike
Jan 27, 2015 3:59am

In reply to Liam:

Well, I've always really liked the debut, but I think they were still figuring out what Sleater-Kinney was at that point. It's not as much of a statement as the others, still very good though.

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Belfast Mate
Jan 29, 2015 8:16am

In reply to Iain Duncan Shit:

Hey mate really sorry to hear that, maybe you got a bum copy.
Cheers!

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