Path Of Wellness
The importance of Sleater-Kinney can never be understated. Since forming in Olympia, Washington in 1994, the band has gone on to release some of the greatest rock records ever. There was a bittersweetness felt when the group decided to go on an “indefinite hiatus” in 2006 after touring the ferociously great album The Woods. After working on solo projects, Carrie Brownstein, with indie supergroup Wild Flag and her hit television series Portlandia with comedian/musician Fred Armisen.
Corin Tucker with her eponymous The Corin Tucker Band and Janet Weiss providing her phenomenal backbeat to the bands Quasi, Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks and The Shins, among many others, Sleater-Kinney announced they were getting back together to release their eight studio album No Cities To Love in late 2014. Sleater-Kinney’s second act has shown the band growing and experimenting with their sound and with this growth there has been some considerable growing pains. 2019’s St.Vincent produced The Centre Won’t Hold found them playing around in a glossier pop aesthetic to mixed results including the departure of Janet Weiss, who had been playing with the band for 24 years. While Weiss’s departure from the act must’ve not been an easy decision, it turns out the path Brownstein and Tucker were on was a Path Of Wellness. Their tenth studio album, and first one they have self produced, it is a return to form for the group and one that fans and newcomers will celebrate. The flashier pop elements that made up The Centre To Hold are no longer and in their stead is a dedication to songwriting, guitar chops and a wonderful looseness that, while feeling distant from the band’s earliest output, is the type of growth and maturity you would expect from one of America’s best bands.
There is really nothing that compares to hearing Tucker and Brownstein singing together and right off the top of Path Of Wellness we are treated to it in the album’s title track. There is a lot to say about a group’s chemistry and as singers and guitar players Tucker and Brownstein’s chemistry is unquestionable. Over some loopy percussion and a groove inducing bass line, the pair dig right into the record’s thesis when they sing, “I’m on a path of wellness”. It can’t be said enough how awesome it is to hear Brownstein and Tucker playing off of each other. “High In The Grass” showcases their guitar interplay as well as Tucker’s goosebump inducing vocal prowess. As first time producers the band also does an admirable job. Path Of Wellness never feels overstuffed but has an easy denseness to it all, while also shining the spotlight squarely on the songs. “Shadow Town” has the distinction of being one of the band’s longest songs but it never wears out its welcome with its Rhodes piano and stuttering rhythm. When Tucker hits the chorus, it’s unnerving to hear how fresh she sounds. As one of the best vocalists in music, she really makes the most out of every performance she gives on the album.
While the decades long career of Sleater-Kinney has been mostly up, rather than down, it’s nice to hear, even through an album misstep and the departure of one of the core members, that the band still sounds so exciting. By taking the reins of the project into their own hands for the first time, Brownstein and Tucker are showing how much they are committed to working together to continue their great legacy. Path Of Wellness was conceived entirely during the pandemic among all the upheaval, emotional, social and otherwise, that came along with it. This record truly feels like Sleater-Kinney has taken stock of the last year, and perhaps a few before it, and shone a light on these emotional and social issues and through their songs maybe found some healing. It is a Path Of Wellness after all and it’s one that is so worth following.