Sleater-Kinney returns with a fury on 'No Cities to Love'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
If it’s best appreciated in full, the initial blast is enough to create shockwaves, ripping through the living room or the car or headphones, wherever it first happens to hit.
Sleater-Kinney had been on the shelf for nearly 10 years, stopping after a summer tour while their catalog immediately began to naturally grow their cult audience into an increasingly fervent following. So it’s this intense curiosity and anticipation that greets No Cities to Love, their return that was announced seemingly out of the blue. And with any band that reunites after significant time away, there’s a bar to clear and questions to answer.
In case there’s any question, every hurdle is topped and every query is addressed, and then some. No Cities to Love, front to back, is 30-plus minutes of puck and rock fury, without a single note or word wasted. All that is thorougly presented on its two sides, but it’s obvious within the first minute of the opening track.
If there’s a unifying theme, it’s the constant repackaging and rebranding of a demographic-obsessed economy — “Price Tag,” “Bury Our Friends,” “No Cities to Love” and “Hey Darling” all seem to touch on it, directly or otherwise. The instant-gratification that isn’t just necessary but expected from each commodified piece of society is examined, skewered and, if not accepted, acknowledged as the all-too-formidable foe of our times.
It’s almost too perfect that this fantastic statement on everything is coming from Sleater-Kinney, a band that stopped after arguably their most powerful album, 2005’s The Woods, and laid in state while their popularity and influence grew over the decade that followed. In the moment, they were a ferocious band with a unique voice and approach; over time, they became a symbol of everything great that a band could aspire towards. They were original, uncompromising, complicated and fun. All that’s changed now is the use of the past tense.
None of this is a surprise today. Unless the first single, “Bury Our Friends,” was a total fraud, the hint of this new, incredible work ready to be thrust upon the willing and anxious ears of everyone who missed them and the even greater numbers who were let in on the secret in the years of their absence. At first glance, it almost sounded as though they’d picked up where they left off, but that’s not exactly correct. If this is a slightly less angry version of Sleater-Kinney, it’s just a little wiser and better prepared to tackle the topics that matter most. Certainly, the band hasn’t been dormant in music; Corin Tucker immediately began a solo career, Carrie Brownstein founded Wild Flag with Janet Weiss, and in the gaps, Weiss was the best-kept secret on the scene, a punishing drummer in a number of bands, a time-keeper who swings as well as pounding the beat.
They’ve come back together now, and the strength of the 10 songs on No Cities to Love is nearly enough to forgive their time away from the spotlight. This isn’t an album that could have been made in 2007, but it’s close to perfect in 2015.
And while the album may or may not have all these overarching themes of impossible importance, it doesn’t even need them. The thrill comes from something as simple as listening to a band play as if nothing else could possibly matter; just hearing that loud, brash sound bouncing out of the speakers with total disregard for anything that could get in the way of the noise. At their best, Sleater-Kinney was among the most frantic, energizing bands working, with each record more intense and captivating than the last.
They went away too early and they’ve returned beyond that, with No Cities to Love ranking with or above anything they’ve done before. If it sounds like praise too high or undeserved, then this album hasn’t crashed through your specific headphones and into your life. Maybe the brand hasn’t been properly engaged, or leveraged, or whatever is supposed to happen for success to be bundled and measured.
But that never matters. When something works, it works in the long run, but it shouldn’t take 10 years for this album to make an impact.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org