According to Google, a riot grrrl (noun) is “a member of a movement of young feminists associated with aggressive punk-style rock music.”
No Cities to Love
Sleater-Kinney, a three-piece, all-female band at the core of this movement, have a definition that’s much more their own. Bandmates Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein (“Portlandia”) and Janet Weiss put the riot in the music, which is all of the following in no particular order (because disorder is punk): stunningly angry, surprisingly melodic, boomingly soulful and downright badass. These ladies have been spilling jams of the aforementioned variety since 1994, riding and dominating the coattails of grunge and all its glory. And after a hiatus of nearly 10 years, their latest album is just as much of a triumph as 2005’s critically-adored The Woods. And their new album No Cities to Love doesn’t skip a beat.
Few bands can match Sleater-Kinney’s energy, which is hyper and rife on their latest album. “Price Tag” is the best way they could have kicked off the carefully crafted 10-song tracklist. It’s catchy and rhythmic, smoothly catastrophic at parts, setting lofty expectations for its nine sister tunes who, actually, get better and better as the album continues. The brilliant “Fangless” soon follows, complete with great back-up vocals from Brownstein and a Strokes-esque riff. It sounds like riot grrrl for the 21st century — a little more polished, more intricate, but still so hard.
Each song wouldn’t be (and couldn’t be) complete, though, without lead singer Tucker’s deliciously raw vocals. Her yawp devours every chord with the juxtaposed essence of grace and anger management; such soul can’t be taught. On “No Anthems” the listener gets her more subtle side in the verses, sexy whispers over Weiss’s roaring drums, but she comes around with that yell again and sets the whole track on fire. It’s great. Flavors of punk’s past guide her on “Bury Our Friends,” her slurred Clash-like pronunciation enhancing Sleater-Kinney’s street cred. And “Hey Darling,” probably the most conventional track on the album, blossoms into something truly melodic by the time Tucker hits the chorus. Here, if even for a few minutes, she shows us she can really sing by society’s working definition of “singing,” should she choose to abide by it. But that wouldn’t be very riot grrrl of her, now, would it?
As rooted as it is in punk, No Cities to Love is not lacking in inventiveness. “Gimme Love,” arguably the best song on the album, showcases staccato guitars and vocals to match — its terseness is jarring in the niftiest way possible, progressing and following Tucker’s hajj to the pinnacle of lyrical angst. “A New Wave” and “Surface Envy” have classic-rock vibes and are refreshingly upbeat. Marked by songs like these, the album seems more alive than The Woods, more rocking and truer to Sleater-Kinney’s origins — it’s less of them trying to fit to the times or mellow themselves out in accordance with their age. Even the titular track creates rad harmonies and prodding drive. Take it from the pros: riot grrrls don’t get old.
The album only slows down with its concluding song, “Fade”— a wicked, eerie, swampy number that’s Tucker’s last catharsis. Heavy guitars and a creepy groove make it really cool to listen to, an appropriate yet imaginative way to end an impressive comeback record.
These three gals still sounds like a really good girl group jamming out in their basement in Olympia, Washington in 1994, but with about 10 times more chutzpah, musicality and refined punk vigor. Is that the secret to success, or, moreover, (riot) girl power? Who knows. But it works like hell for Sleater-Kinney.