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Rolling Stone critic Rob Sheffield once hailed OG riot-grrrl giants Sleater-Kinney as “America’s best punk band ever. EVER,” and four out of five doctors, as well as this humble AP writer, would have to agree. The trio, made up of drummer Janet Weiss and singer-guitarists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, were hugely influential in the roots of riot-grrrl feminism in the Pacific Northwest, and managed to crank out seven near-perfect LPs before going on indefinite hiatus in 2006. Luckily for us both, that hiatus is officially over after the announcement of a brand-new record and a tour to support it earlier this week. If you’re looking to brush up on your S-K listening before their February show at the House of Blues, we’ve got a crash course for you right here.
While most people consider Sleater-Kinney’s final, angst-ridden powerhouse The Woods to be the band’s greatest full-length, I prefer the supercharged, rollicking, punching riffs and hooks of 2002’s One Beat. This record balances tones of fiery post 9/11 anger, rhythmic and melodic complexities, and pop-esque accessibility all at once. If you want to get into Sleater-Kinney but aren’t sure where to start, listen to this album, pass go, and collect $200 to spend on merch because this will definitely be your new favorite band.
You’ll Love This If: You think being punk isn’t an excuse for not being able to play your guitar, you are out of coffee and need something to amp you up in the morning, you gave The Punk Singer five stars on Netflix.
Fave tracks: Oh, Light Rail Coyote, O2, Sympathy
All Hands on the Bad One, released in 2000, marked the return of producer John Goodmanson to the Sleater-Kinney sound (you’ll also find his stamp on their upcoming release No Cities to Love), and I think, the first record where the band really finds their sonic identity. Pounding drums and intricate guitar play between Tucker and Brownstein envelop staunchly feminist lyrics earnestly shouted for whoever’s willing to sit up and pay attention.
You’ll Love This If: You’re sick of dudely dude rock bands who, let’s face it, are no fun, you are looking for a soundtrack to a Kill Bill-like fight scene, you think that the dream of the 90s, is, in fact, alive in Portland.
“Entertain” Live on the Henry Rollins show, 2006
To truly understand the fire that’s poured into a Sleater-Kinney song, you’ve got to watch one unfold live. In this live rendition of “Entertain” (off of 2005’s The Woods), you can really see what makes this band so good– the incredible synchronicity between the drum beat, the two vocals, and the interchanging guitars has never been so perfectly illustrated as it is in this video.
You’ll Love This If: You are curious to see Carrie Brownstein do something other than act on Portlandia, you generally think late-night TV performances are lame and are looking to be pleasantly surprised, you need something to hold you over until February’s Boston show (because, by this point in the article, you’re utterly convinced).
To understand Sleater-Kinney completely, it’s also helpful to check out the trio’s various side projects, one of the best of which is Wild Flag’s eponymous album from 2011. In the barren desert that was the musical landscape after Sleater-Kinney broke up, Wild Flag boasted a miraculous combination of true riot grrrl rock stars: Brownstein and Weiss from Sleater-Kinney, Mary Timony of Helium/Ex Hex, and Rebecca Cole of The Minders. Although the band only made the one album together, they had a helluva sound, and are a must-listen if you’re looking to understand Sleater-Kinney in context.
You’ll Love This If: You like Sleater-Kinney but also occasionally like listening to something less aggressive, you are a Gen-X mom or dad who used to be in a band but now have a suit-and-tie job in Manhattan, you’re looking for a supergroup that doesn’t suck.
Fave tracks: Racehorse, Romance, Glass Tambourine
New track “Bury Our Friends” with lyric video feat. Miranda July
You’ll Love This If: You love the rest of it.
Extra credit listening:
“I Never Want to See You Again” – Quasi
“Complicated” – Heavens to Betsy
“Carson” – Excuse 17
“Margin Walker” (Fugazi cover) – Wild Flag live in Boston, 2012