Friday, January 18, 2008

Rockin Out

The Woods
Sleater-Kinney, 2005

[Yes, it's been a long time since I've posted anything here. Maybe it'll be a while before I do again - I want to, but it's been difficult to find the time.]

Sleater-Kinney is one of those bands that I'd heard of a lot, and knew a lot about, before I'd heard a single note. Such is the odd way of media and criticism, not to mention hipsterism. The music itself is one thing (be it live performance or recording), but its footprint in culture is quite another. It's hard to talk about music directly, as I've proven here many times, but to become a shared experience in the larger world, words have to be used, it seems. (Whether musical expressions need to be shared on that scale, and whether scaling up might enhance or corrupt, are issues way beyond this silly blog.)

In any case, while I had some admiration for the band, and enjoyed the songs that I'd heard, I never bought an album until this one. And I admit that part of my motivation was that my daughter was starting to investigate rock music, and I realized that it was slim pickings on my record shelf when it came to women-led bands. This disc was part of solving that problem, and also a way of guiltlessly spending money on something that I wanted. A win-win for sure.

This is pretty raw punk energy expressed in tightly arranged songs. Here's a parallel that springs to mind: what Led Zeppelin did to synthesize and re-energize the English rock of the 60s decade, Sleater-Kinney attempts to do here for the Seattle-ish alternative rock of the 90s. (Yes, Zep-heads, feel free to pounce, it's just an analogy.) There's a fair amount of variety here in terms of style, though everything hangs together because of the lead vocalist's passionate delivery and the way the production is just drowned in layers of bittersweet feedback.

I genuinely like every cut on the album - it can be exhausting to listen to, since the emotion is ratcheted up high, but of course that's kinda the point. One standout for me is "Rollercoaster," which takes a couple of hot guitar riffs and thundering drums, and puts them in the service of what could almost be a Beach Boys song. The fact that Corin Tucker seems to be on the verge of utter hysterical meltdown throughout made it a favorite of mine during some recent personal issues. She barely keeps contact with the song-structure and tonality, just enough to draw needed power from it.

The other highlight for me is "Modern Girl," which just drips with acidic irony, cranking it to levels I didn't think pop music capable of, honestly. Starting out simply sarcastic, with an optimistic twangy guitar supporting lyrics about love and consumerism. But it gets darker as it goes, and by the last chorus, so slathered in thick swaths of lo-fi analog feedback and clipping, we are in deep ironic territory indeed. She sings not that her life is a sunny day, nor that it's like a sunny day. No, she sings "my whole life is like a picture of a sunny day." Just as that sweet optimistic melody repeats while it rots from the inside. Again, not easy to listen to, and not exactly subtle, but it gets its point across for sure. Leave the subtlety to Ira Gershwin.

Get it on itunes:
Sleater-Kinney - The Woods (iTunes Version)

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