Along with the tumultuous excitement that came with news of Sleater-Kinney’s reunion after a nearly ten year long break from making music, there was small but undying part of me that didn’t want the band to reform. Ultimately, there was a sense of fear, a fear of listening to any new material that might tarnish the bands already incredible discography.
Sleater-Kinney were the unmitigated champions of the indie and punk rock scene that brought indie rock to widespread knowledge and critical acclaim in the 90’s and early 2000’s. With a fiery punk, feminist and political aesthetic that seemed to naturally spawn from, but yet at the same time eclipse, the feminist punk movement Riot Grrrl. The raw visceral style created by Carrie Brownstein’s urgent guitar riffs, Janet Weiss’ aggressive, but technically adept drumming and Corin Tucker’s wailing often shrieking vocals came to full fruition in their last album The Woods.
Since their reformation, the band seems aware of the mammoth task of living up to expectations and past selves. “Hey Darling” one of the tracks from No Cities to Love, the band’s first album to come out of their reunion, is incredibly self-aware, proclaiming: “It seems to me the only thing/That comes from fame is mediocrity”. But with regards to No Cities to Love, I had no reason to worry about Sleater-Kinney’s “mediocrity”. The album sees the band switching the ferocity of the sound created on The Woods in favour of a more simpler, cleaner sound. This change in style only brings the band up to date, sounding more modern and sophisticated than ever.
Even with this change of sound, No Cities to Love sees Sleater-Kinney continuing their tradition of focusing on complex political subject matter. The opening track of the album “Price Tag” sees Corin Tucker singing about an emotionally charged personal reference to her experience of motherhood. Yet, the song focuses more widely on the difficulties of working dead-end jobs in this current economic climate while simultaneously raising a family. Like the change in sound, Sleater-Kinney’s focus on current issues keeps them relevant, a difficult task for a band whose career has spanned over twenty years.
The title track of the album “No Cities to Love” on first listen appears to be the least hard hitting of the whole album, especially compared to the band’s earlier work. The vocals make this track, the combination of incredibly fierce harmonies coupled with a catchy guitar riff makes for an unforgettable chorus. Yet, even this track has more subtle nuances, detailing the modern preoccupation of romanticising a certain city or location compared with the realities of city life.
The track “No Anthems” has a darker grittier feel, achieved by distorted guitar sounds and a distinct sultry tone in Corin Tucker’s voice. The band has since talked about the lack of artists in indie-rock that continued where Sleater-Kinney left off when the band dissolved in 2006, with Janet Weiss more specifically commenting on the “lack of urgency” in modern music in an interview with PBS. With lyrics like “But now there are no anthems/ All I can hear is the echo, and the ring”, “No Anthems” is a desperate cry for a meaningful, relatable anthem in today’s music. However, it seems that 2015 will be the year this cry is heard, with bands such as: Girl Pool, Sult4ever, Perfect Pussy, Skinny Girl Diet and Cherry Glazerr creating waves in the music world, tackling feminist issues with their music in an almost Riot Grrrl-esque resurgence.
Sleater-Kinney’s reunion was perhaps a bold move in an age where band reunions often seem like a fast solution for artists strapped for cash. However, Sleater Kinney achieves this difficult task of a reunion, and more besides. Having previously inspired a generation of musicians to make passionately charged indie rock music, Sleater Kinney is once again part of a movement that seems more charged and stronger than ever.