“Did you ever get the feeling / That you don’t belong” begins a verse of “What’s Mine Is Yours,” one of the 10 explosions of deep, dark rock‘n’roll on Sleater-Kinney’s latest release, The Woods. It’s a feeling Sleater-Kinney has gotten used to: After creating an unmistakable style with a half dozen intricate, emotionally and musically powerful albums, the trio (guitarists/vocalists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss) resides comfortably out of the indie/mainstream crossover spotlight. The Woods shows Sleater-Kinney at their best — outspoken, emotional and musically white-hot.
“The Fox” opens The Woods; after a thick, insistent doubled guitar intro, we hear Tucker’s superhuman wail — perhaps Sleater-Kinney’s most distinctive calling card — soaring over thunder-in-the-distance percussion.
Brownstein and Tucker have fattened up their already-monstrous sound; although lithe, intricate lines like those on earlier albums appear elsewhere, they’re creating crashes and screams rather than the cool, menacing vocal declamations of previous years.
“Wilderness” follows, centering on the swiftly sketched tale of a couple in hard times. As do many tracks on The Woods, “Wilderness” begins in one tone and ends in another: The third verse opens with Brownstein’s low, girlish vocals singing “All our little wishes have run dry.” Four verses later, she ends the song with a much more aggressive sentiment: “I’ll see you in hell, I don’t mind.”
Sleater-Kinney peak twice on The Woods, first on the tight, anxious “Jumpers,” then on the 11-minute epic seduction story “Let’s Call It Love.” But “Jumpers” is Sleater-Kinney in classic form; it’s a first-person diatribe akin to All Hands on the Bad One’s “Youth Decay” and The Hot Rock’s “The End of You.” This story of suicide — executed by leaping from the Golden Gate Bridge — shows the trio’s songwriting ability: “There is a bridge adorned and framed / … Whose back is heavy / With my weight,” Brownstein and Tucker sing in sweet harmony. At the end of the journey, the speaker admits defeat (“I’m not a bird / I’m not a plane”) as the song plunges into repetition of the last two lines: “Four seconds was / The longest wait.”
The Woods marks the Olympia, Wash.-based trio’s first decade together. Since their inception in 1995, they’ve sharpened the impact of a basic rock outfit’s opposite extremes, eschewing bass for Brownstein and Tucker’s fiery lead guitars and Weiss’s rumbling, machine-gun drumming. It’s no mistake that a brooding, emotionally complex album like this one comes at this point in their career: Much of 2002’s One Beat was composed in reaction to American life post-Sept. 11, but Sleater-Kinney channeled their frustration into tracks that heralded a call to action. After simmering for three years, those still-resonant feelings have become The Woods. They’re exploring a mysterious, unknown territory; The Woods is their map.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars