For people who aren’t Sleater Kinney Fans: If you’ve heard of the band and maybe heard a song or two but weren’t sure if you’d like it, this is the time to give them a chance. Make no mistake, there are a couple hurdles to jump before this album gets under your skin, but if you enjoy acts that offer a bit of a challenge (think Wilco, Pavement, Sonic Youth, the Pixies) this album proves Sleater Kinney to be firmly in that class of great American rock bands. Check out a free listen here.
The riot grrrl tag was a banner the band used to wave high, and while they certainly haven’t abandoned that audience or turned their back on feminism, they have grown beyond it in the way that U2 grew beyond Irish protest rock to embrace the world without betraying their core. The band even tells people who are there to be entertained to “just go away” halfway through the album and by then, if you care at all about quality music, you’ll forgive them the snottiness. It’s more proof that you can be principled and rock out with the best of them.
If you make through “Entertain” with your self worth intact, your reward is the dizzying “Rollercoaster” that builds enourmous centripital force as it move along and then literally (yup, literally) flings you a mile into the air. Luckily, they give you something to boogie to as you fall back to earth. More exciting, the track starts and ends with studio noise (Janet Weiss dropping her sticks at the start and then laughter at the end) that give the impression that they pulled this off live and in one take. Never has a song about love gone stale left you so breathless, and this is just one of the monster songs on this album. At least half the tracks deserve their own dissertation, but the joy is in taking the ride, not taking the ride apart.
This is a sonically beautiful and adventurous album that will find a way into your head. Abandon your reservations at the door and take it at face value. There is plenty here that will make you a believer.
For Sleater Kinney Fans: Wow. I had expectations going in. They were tempered a bit by the uneven One Beat, but that album’s “Sympathy” proved that Sleater Kinney had another level in them. The band now lives at that level. Without trading in any integrity or power, the band has hit a level that shows craft, depth and something indescribable (love?) that makes the experience of listening to The Woods a sort of awakening.
This may have been the album the band was poised to make in 2001 when that year’s political/religious events turned One Beat into a response to the attacks on US soil. You take the tracks that aren’t overtly related to 9/11 from that album and it leads directly to what’s happening here. The band members are now masters of their instrurments after seven mostly great and successively more musical albums. They are clearly on a par with any active trio in terms of raw playing ability, interplay, tempo and expression.
The song writing has also hit a new high. There is simply no low point here. A song like “The Fox,” the standard feminist anthem written as a fable, which would have sounded obligatory on previous albums, gets the lead off spot and a rousing treatment. From the opening guitar squeal, you are right there with the band, ready to take what they throw at you.
And that’s another thing to love about this album. While it certainly doesn’t pull any punches or ride for long stretches in safe territory, it is very accessible in the sense that there are several ways in to this album. Modern Girl sounds like a sweet almost folk-y song (it’s not, of course, and the subversion is deliciously subtle). “Rollercoaster” is almost ready for heavy rotation on MTV or your local alternative station (if there’s a god). It’s their most adventurous, challenging and entertaining album all at the same time (even as they swear they aren’t around to entertain anyone on “Entertain”). “Let’s Call it Love,” the second to last track, is offered as proof that the band will take any risk of alienating the listener — down to screamed vocals and a seven minute instrumental punk jam finale — but at that point, you’re ready for anything, completely at the band’s mercy. If you can handle it, and if you’re already a fan then you can, it’s well worth submitting.