Sleater-Kinney appears radio-ready with tunes reminiscent of rock’s female icons
There is something irresistible about screaming guitars and the sound of chicks singing. And if the chicks in question turn it out with a sound reminiscent of a Jefferson Airplane-Grace Slick-meets-Patti Smith sound, so much the better.
With their new release, “The Woods,” the trio of Carrie Brownstein, Janet Weiss and Corin Tucker, better known as Sleater-Kinney, have melded their original riot-grrl sound with a classic late ‘70s vibe that is pounding, infectious and far from ladylike.
Sleater-Kinney has added more serious rock on the band’s seventh album, with Brownstein and Tucker’s guitars parrying like a pair of old friends, and Weiss’ drums laying down a serious beat. Whether Tucker is whispering or screaming the lyrics, the vocals always seem deeply woven into the instrumentals.
The album opens with screeching guitar feedback, which evolves into a solid guitar break, and Tucker saying, rather than singing, the lyrics, “On the day the duck was born, the fox was watching all along.” She screeches, “Goodbye, little fox,” in a spine-tingling howl that instantly evokes Slick in her best Airplane days. The juxtaposition of the cacophonous guitar and wide-open drums with this almost pre-adolescent sounding Grimms’ fairy tale about a wicked fox leaves the listener a little unsettled—but in a good way. At the end, the guitar going down the chords gives the effect of slowing down, as if ending the chase.
The bouncy keyboard opening and lyrics of “Wilderness” evoke other chick rockers, particularly Le Tigre. This bouncing opening repeats in “What’s Mine in Yours,” which opens with the left-to-right speaker distortion––oh, so very Led Zeppelin. Tucker and Brownstein maintain the discord by each playing opposite ends of the rhythm. This somewhat dark tune rails against being alone; yet with what the women with no undue modesty call “Brownstein’s Hendrix-style guitar solo,” constructs an audible barrier to make that connection, before ultimately returning to the original rhythm. It is a complex, classic piece.
The urgency of “Jumpers,” one of the best tracks on the album, depicts the edgy state of mind of someone ready to take a dive off the Golden Gate Bridge. Sleater-Kinney decided to forego the usual verse-chorus format in favor of pure passion. “Jumpers” seems like a radio-ready hit.
The experimentation and distortion are heavy in “Modern Girl,” a quirky, ballad-like tune about finding love through a new TV set, with lyrics, “My whole life looked like a picture of a sunny day.”
“Roller Coaster” and “Steep Air” are also sure-fire hits, both starting at the bottom, building up to a crescendo, with full release. “Roller Coaster” has a real Patti Smith, “Redondo Beach” vibe to it, reminiscent of an old hippie-era hit, or the type of tune Volkswagen would co-opt to sell some Bugs. “Steep Air” has an almost underwater feel to it, mesmerizing with its repeating chords.
“Let’s Call it Love” looks back at the band’s more feminist work, with the lyrics, “A woman is not a girl, she could show you a thing or two.” The tune links right into the final track, “Night Light,” with an extended improv guitar passage.
With seven albums under their belt and a solid fan base, Sleater-Kinney has little to prove, except to themselves. What fortune then that they set their personal best a little higher this time. Catch the ladies as they make their way around Canada and the U.S., with a tour date on June 23 at New York City’s Roseland. What a perfect way to celebrate gay pride.
Sleater-Kinney appears at Roseland, 239 W. 52nd St. on June 23 at 6:45 p.m. Tickets are $21 at 212-242-0200.