No Cities to Love
Everyone knew Sleater-Kinney couldn’t stay apart forever. Their 2006 split was amicable, Corin Tucker’s burgeoning family being the main catalyst for their indefinite hiatus. The ladies have kept it busy since then. Despite juggling parenting, Tucker made two records with her homebound Corin Tucker Band, and Carrie Brownstein formed Wild Flag with Janet Weiss. Oh yeah, she also stars in a little comedy program you might have heard of.
Watching Brownstein become more famous in her late thirties as one half of the Portlandia duo has been mind boggling and oddly has stirred more of a demand from fans for a Sleater-Kinney reformation, with fans getting antsy about losing Brownstein to the public, having been an indie darling with Tucker and Weiss for a decade and a half. Wild Flag was good, but didn’t have that out-of-the-park spark that Corin Tucker’s chopping riffs and wailing voice brought to the table (not to mention that Mary Timony’s more melodic style offered some of that record’s best tunes).
The interplay between Tucker and Brownstein is a truly magical combination that holds true to the band’s return, the rip-roaring No Cities to Love. Teaming up again with John Goodmanson who produced every SK record from Call the Doctor to One Beat, No Cities to Love reclaims the nimble and tightly wound indie rock that defined he band’s epic run. Personally, The Woods was my favorite Sleater-Kinney album, but this is this is the plain and direct sound that is the basis of the group, and they haven’t lost one bit of their untamed edge.
Considering the band split over the precedence of domesticity, it makes sense that the record opens with a working class anxiety rocker, “Price Tag.” Riding a Janet Weiss samba beat on the verses, Corin Tucker sings — “The bells go off/the buzzer coughs/the traffic starts to buzz,” and that “We never checked the price tag/When the cost comes in/It’s gonna be high.” Walls closing in or not, the band are more resolved than ever to fight back. “Surface Envy” is one of the band’s most triumphant stompers. “We win, we lose/Only together do we break the rules” snarls Tucker over a pounding chorus that seems destined for sports arenas.
As always, there’s a feeling of solidarity in the band that still rings loudly, like on the album’s first single, “Bury Our Friends” where Tucker and Brownstein trade off verses like fierce warriors ready to get back n the fight. Tucker sings “Today I am stitched I am sewn/Patch me up/I’ve got want in my bones,” to Brownstein’s “Ready to climb/Out from under concrete/Only I get to be sickened by me.” Later on a “A New Wave,” Tucker and Brownstein sing together, “No one here is taking notice/No outline will ever hold us/It’s not a new wave, it’s just you and me!” For an album that boasts a (pretty sick) song called “No Anthems,” this is an album filled to the brink with them.
On the album’s title track, Carrie Brownstein calls attention to the corporate takeover of the cities we’ve all grown to love that are slowly being taken away (namely her adopted home of New York). “Atomic tourist/A life in search of power/Found my test site/Made a ritual of emptiness.” Music has changed a lot since this band last graced us with their presence – not just in styles, but in how we consume it, and who is giving it to us. So many artists and musicians are trying to capitalize on what is cool, trying to step in at the right time and bite off of pre-established foundations. Much like the cities, there are less and less bands to truly bond with and get lost in. Sleater-Kinney, however, remain pure. Their return may be more of the same of what they usually have given us, but if there’s a limit on a need for nimble, inspiring indie feminist punk, we haven’t reached it.