Sunday, March 14, 2010

Heavy Band 005: Sleater-Kinney

Last week I featured a band that didn't have a guitarist until recently, and this week I'm going with Sleater-Kinney, a band without a bassist. I didn't believe that a band could be heavy without a low end until I heard Sleater-Kinney. They had the raw energy of a young Iggy and the Stooges, had guitar licks as clean as Fugazi and as dirty as Motörhead, and they constantly evolved, quitting before they could grow stale.
Corin Tucker's pulsing rhythm guitar helped drive their songs. Her vocals a
re truly awesome, at times sweet as dulce de leche and other times shrieking that would put a Banshee's wail to shame. At times her vocals are raw, and at other times almost seem that they are coming from some 1960s R&B group played through an old hand held transistor radio. Tucker's lyrics could be overtly political, subversively personal, or just plain fun.
Carrie Brownstein was on lead guitar summoning ghosts of Pete Townshend's past, teaching a whole new generation what it is to rock. Her guitar playing alternated between the clean staccato sounds of modern pop punk and the fuzzy thrash of an inhalant huffing garage band. Her backing vocals provide a martial push on songs that were often anti-militaristic.
Janet Weiss joined up after their second album, and provided the pumping, heavy, blasting drum line that completed the band's sound.
Tucker and Brownstein formed Sleater-Kinney in 1994 in Olympia. Initially part of the Riot Grrrl movement, Their music evolved from political punk in the style of Dead Kennedys through until they created a style that could only be considered their own.
Their first album, the self titled Sleater-Kinney debuted in 1995. This album was followed by Call the Doctor in 1996. Both of these albums were aggressive punk with political overtones alternating with the alternative ballads that were so popular in the mid 1990s. Sleater-Kinney had the alternative ballad The Day I Went Away and Call the Doctor had Heart Attack. For harder tunes Sleater-Kinney had A Real Man, Call the Doctor had its self titled track.
Their third album, Dig Me Out had the stirrings of what would become the Sleater-Kinney sound. The title track was a pumping anthem full of distorted guitars, slamming drums and Tucker's unbelievably powerful voice. This was the first album with Weiss on drums and it is in part due to this that this is recognized as the solidifying of their sound.
Sleater-Kinney's fourth album The Hot Rock has more of an indie pop feel than any of their other albums. Songs like Hot Rock, God is a Number, and Get Up have a dreamy quality that isn't seen in such a quantity in any of their other albums.
They followed up The Hot Rock with All Hands on the Bad One. Youth Decay from this album could only be created by Sleater-Kinney's unique sound. Ironclad and the album's title track are heavy, yet vulnerable in a way that only they could create.
Sleater-Kinney's heaviest album was One Beat. While the title track, Remainder, and Combat Rock are heavy enough for me to take those songs alone and consider them an extremely heavy band, they slowed down their tempo for Far Away to Black Sabbath time. Far Away has faster portions, but its heaviness is tied to its slow paced parts, its sheer volume, and its unadulterated anger. Far Away stands as a testament to Sleater-Kinney's heaviness.
Sleater-Kinney's seventh and final album was The Woods. It opened with the rocking The Fox, a song that makes me want to go out and commit acts of destruction. Songs like Jumpers and Rollercoaster push this album forth into extremely heavy realms. While I was sad to see that Sleater-Kinney were going into retirement, I would much rather see them go out on a high note as they did, than to slide into mediocrity. I'm pretty sure that they had a few more awesome albums in them, and maybe we will get a listen if they ever have a reunion.

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Heavy Metal Yogi by Nick Matthaes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.