Confession: I’m really fed up with current music these days. Sure, there are some catchy tunes out there, but I feel like everything’s just candy. I crave it, it tastes good, and then it’s over. I never remember it and it leaves no mark (except for my regrettable expanding waistline). This applies to pop like Lady Gaga and it applies to the stuff that’s supposed to be right in my wheelhouse, bearded hipster music in the vein of Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. Even the “edgy” dancy hipster music of MGMT doesn’t really do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But it’s just not revelatory to me. It’s just…there. As a result, I’ve been diving back into my 25k+ iTunes library in hopes of rediscovering old music. And boy, did it work.
I’ve always been a Sleater-Kinney fan, but as I’m realizing now, not in the way I should have been. But before I get into that, a little background:
Sleater-Kinney are a three-woman outfit based out of Portland, Oregon (or PDX as the locals and those of us who grew up during the riot grrrl era know it). They have two singer/guitarists in Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, and a drummer, Janet Weiss. I say “have” but that’s technically incorrect. S-K have been on an indefinite hiatus since August 2006. I’m actually quite proud to say that I saw their last show outside of PDX, at Lollapalooza 2006. It was awesome.
Separate and apart from their music, which I’ll get to in a bit, the women of S-K are totally inspiring. Janet was actually S-K’s fifth drummer. She only started playing drums at 22 years old and she was working at an ad agency when she heard that S-K were looking for a new drummer. She auditioned, Carrie and Corin loved her and the rest is history. She quit her job to be the drummer of this indie band. Uh, AWESOME.
As for Carrie and Corin, that’s a bit complicated. They both came out of the riot grrrl scene that was spawned at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in the early 90’s. Corin, daughter of a college professor, was a founding member of Heavens to Betsy, one of the seminal riot grrrl bands, along with Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. Carrie, a hyperarticulate sociolinguistics major, transferred to Evergreen, started a band called Excuse 17, and after meeting Corin and realizing they were musical soulmates, both disbanded their bands and formed S-K (named after the highway exit that led to their practice space). Carrie and Corin dated for a while and then broke up. And let me tell you, I’m always obsessed with bands that have that dynamic (Fleetwood Mac, No Doubt, Rilo Kiley, just to name a few).
But aside from that gossip side of things, both women are intelligent, well-spoken, and well-read. Corin is now a mom, raising her son Marshall with her husband Lance. Carrie has moved on and is now a music blogger on NPR. You can hear her on their All Songs Considered podcasts. Want a fun drinking game? Do a shot everytime she uses the words “insouciant” or “visceral” to describe artists and music. She’s also done a bunch of interviews and published articles in McSweeney’s Believer magazine. I love reading her writing.
And if that’s not enough to solidify Carrie’s “awesome” quotient, she’s 1/2 of the comedy duo ThunderAnt. The other half? Fred Armisen.
Loved this. “Clementine. Valentine. Columbine. The flower not the high school massacre.” And “Ringo Starr???”
But back to the music, because really, that’s the whole point of this. There are really two albums you need to know when it comes to S-K, and they’re both markedly different, yet similar: Dig Me Out and The Woods. Dig Me Out, released in 1999, was their coming out party. It’s been cited as one of the top records of the decade and it is pure unadulterated punk/rock. It led to them being named by Time as America’s Best Rock Band in 2001. The Woods was their last album, released in June 2005. It took all their punk albums and threw them out. It is pure unadulterated ROCK. Like, Zeppelin style.
And that’s really what I think has been missing from music lately. Music that RAWKs. Wailing, shredding, ear bleeding, ROCK. And for me, I have a hard time letting “Dude Rock” wash over me. It’s so testosterone laden that it makes me uncomfortable. Like the music is going to rape me. That’s where Sleater-Kinney come in. It’s balls out rock sung and played by women. Just to be clear, they’re not just good for “girls.” They’re good for anyone, regardless of gender.
To be fair, as I write this, I am acutely aware that many of you will click on these links, hear Corin’s voice and turn it off. That’s totally fair. Corin has one of the most distinctly polarizing voices of the past 20 years. You either love it or hate it. It is gutteral. I have no idea how she makes that sound. Whereas Kathleen Hanna (of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre) has this angry screeching voice, Corin’s carries so much more emotion. Whether she’s singing about a break up (One More Hour, apparently written about Carrie), contemplating suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge (Jumpers), or just fucking wailing (Wilderness, Dig Me Out), her voice is so damn interesting. It’s a voice that refuses to be relegated to the background while you’re cleaning the house. It demands your attention and it can either slay you or infuriate you and force you to shut it off. As Carrie has said, it’s not music that’s meant to be played at the Gap. It’s disorienting in every way.
I think people will feel the same way about Carrie’s voice and guitar. She’s come a long way from her meeker vocals from early S-K albums (stepping aside to let Corin shine, justifiably) to commanding the same attention by the time The Woods came along. Her vocal performance on “Entertain” sounds like she’s about to become unhinged, which is exactly what the song demands. As for her guitar playing, I love it. It has angular quality that has somehow morphed into a classic rock style. Rolling Stone listed her as one of the 25 most underrated guitarists, ranking her as the highest woman on the list.
All this is to say, I love Sleater-Kinney. Listening to them this second time around, I’m completely slayed. During numerous conversations with family this Christmas weekend, all I could think was how much all I wanted to do was go into my room, throw on my headphones and listen to One More Hour, a song that I listened to on loop after I broke up with a certain boy. Or just watch YouTube clips of Corin wailing on Jumpers, marveling at how that voice came to be. You know those moments where you’re in a social situation and all you want to do is get a drink? That’s how I felt about S-K all week.
So here’s my attempt to convert you all to S-K fans. I know it won’t work. I’m convinced it won’t work. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t try.
You’re No Rock ‘n Roll Star. S-K with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Jumpers, which was based on this New Yorker article. I’m really into lyrics so this song is great.
I spend the afternoon in cars
I sit in traffic jams for hours
Don’t push me
I am not OK
The sky is blue most every day
The lemons grow like tumors they
Are tiny suns infused with sour
Lonely as a cloud
In the Golden State
“The coldest winter that I ever saw
Was the summer that I spent…”
The only substance is the fog
And it hides all that has gone wrong
Can’t see a thing
Inside the maze
There is a bridge adored and famed
The Golden spine of engineering
Whose back is heavy
With my weight
Be still this old heart
Be still this old skin
Drink your last drink
Sin your last sin
Sing your last song
About the beginning
Sing it out* loud
So the people can hear
Be still this sad day
Be still this sad year
Hope your last hope
Fear you last fear
You’re not the only one
My falling shape will draw a line
Between the blue of sea and sky
I’m not a bird
I’m not a plane
I took the taxi to the gate
I will not go to school again
Four seconds was
The longest wait
Dig Me Out, considered one of the best punk songs of the last 20 years.
Modern Girl, showing off the sarcastic and quieter side of S-K. I’ve heard that this song gets played at weddings. People are just…dumb.
Entertain. Jesus. Carrie’s vocals are bomb but so are Corin’s. When she comes in on the chorus I get chills. And again, the lyrics are fantastic:
So you want to be entertained? Please look away
We’re not here ’cause we want to entertain. Please go away (don’t go away)
Reality is the new fiction, they say
Truth is truer in these days, truth is man-made
If you’re here cause you want to be entertained
Please go away
If you’re heart is done, Johnny get your gun
Join the rank and file, on your TV dial
You come around looking 1984 // You’re such a bore, 1984
Nostalgia, you’re using it like a whore // It’s better than before
You come around sounding 1972 // You did nothing new with 1972
Where is the fuck you?
Where’s the black and blue
Hey! Look around they are lying to you
Can’t you see it is just a silly ruse?
They are lying, and I am lying too.
All you want is entertainment,
Rip me open it’s free
1, 2, 3! If you wanna take a shot at me, get in line
1, 2, 3! I’ve had all my shots and I’m fine
1, 2, 3! If you haven’t had enough of me, well get in line, line
1, 2, 3! You too deserve it now, it’s all right
1, 2, 3! We can drown in mediocrity, it feels sublime
1, 2, 3! It feels like someone pushed the rewind
1, 2, 3! Give it to me easily, my feeble mind needs time
1, 2, 3! Make it sweet and syrupy with rhyme
[Don’t drag me down,
I’m not falling down]
The grip of fear is already here
The lines are drawn,
Whose side are you on?
Good Things, one of my favorites. It’s hard to really pick a favorite. I think mine is “Entertain”. But thins one is close.
Anyway, that’s Sleater-Kinney. I could go on, but clearly I already have.