Sunday, February 8, 2015

No Cities to Love, by Sleater-Kinney (Album of the Week)

Though Sleater-Kinney has been around for more than 20 years – the band was not on my radar screen at all.  When Robin chose it for this series, I loaded the music on to my computer expecting that Ms. Sleater and Mr. Kinney would be serenading me with chamomile-infused songs about remembered picnics and allegorical gardens.  The album’s title, “No Cities to Love”, promised a countrified, Americana vibe.

The thrill of discovery is sharpened by clueless expectation.

There is no Ms. Sleater or Mr. Kinney.  The music is infused with caffeine and bile, not chamomile.  The songs tackle consumerism, death,  and atomic bombs, not picnics.  And the vibe is more like punk without that genre’s disregard for musical talent.  I was wrong, all wrong, but I’m hooked.

Wikipedia reports that Sleater Kinney Road is a highway exit near Olympia, Washington, where Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and one of a series of drummers started their side project, apart from bands-I-wish-I-heard Heavens to Betsy and Excuse 17.  It sounds like a time of jumbling musical experimentation, and Sleater-Kinney found a great sound.

Each of the songs on this short, 33 minute album comes right at you with solid lyrics, yelping vocals and hard-driving rock.  The first song is a favorite of mine.  It portrays the world of a dead-end retail worker, hoping for a ship she knows isn’t coming in.  Here are some highlights from the lyrics – they’re great as presented here, but they come to furious life when belted out as vocals.

It’s 9 a.m.
We must clock in
The system waits for us
I stock the shelves
I work the rows
. . .

We never really checked
We never checked the price tag
When the cost comes in
It’s gonna be high
We love our bargains
We love the prices so low
With the good jobs gone
It’s gonna be raw

. . .

I was blind by the money
I was numb from the greed
I’ll take God when I’m ready
I’ll choose sin till I leave

On paper (or a screen, more likely), that sounds defeated and beaten, but the fight is in the music.  You don’t feel dare feel sorry for the subject of the song, like you might feel for one of Springsteen’s bummed out victims.  Instead, you feel like you want to hook up with some of that sin she’s choosing.  There’s not a shred of moping in Sleater-Kinner land, even if the circumstance might justify it. 

As the last lines of the last song advise, “If we are truly dancing our swan song, darling/Shake it like never before.”

All told, this is kick-ass, inspiring, fun music wrought out of what would reduce most people to despair.  Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin rejoices in her enthusiasm for a band she might have shrunk from back when her musical horizons were contracting.

Next up:  Fear and Saturday Night, by Ryan Bingham

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