Like many kids my age, my experience with Sleater-Kinney is pretty limited. The first time I heard the name Carrie Brownstein was on Portlandia, an IFC sketch comedy program starring Brownstein and SNL-alum Fred Armisen. When I learned that she was in a rock band during her younger years, I was curious, and decided to dig into Sleater-Kinney a little bit. I listened to some albums, enjoyed them, and moved on with my life. Yeah, I enjoyed them, but that week of Sleater-Kinney was nothing more than me listening to the albums, and deciding that “Dig Me Out” was my favorite song, and The Woods is my favorite album, and nothing much beyond that.
To me, Sleater-Kinney was like a book you read in English class. We all know that To Kill a Mockingbird is pretty important, but only a few people run around screaming about the heroism of Atticus Finch. We just accept what our English teachers tell us, and move on with our lives. The lessons stick, but only the English teachers will go around hammering them into you. I learned that Sleater-Kinney was all great and important, so I listened, and agreed with the word blindly. I didn’t really know why Robert Christgau or Greil Marcus thought this way, I just learned what they had to say, and moved on.
The release of No Cities to Love was hotly anticipated. Fans were ecstatic to learn that this important and seminal band had brand new music for us to listen to. My excitement wasn’t nearly as profound, but actually listening to No Cities to Love has given me a perspective that I did not have that first time I listen to Sleater-Kinney. After ten years of dormancy, Sleater-Kinney has come together to produce an album of great value. Yes, Dig Me Out, Call the Doctor, One Beat and all of their other albums made them the important band that they are today. If it weren’t for those albums, they wouldn’t be one of the most important rock groups of the post-Nirvana generation, up there with Pavement, Radiohead, what have you. But this is No Cities to Love, and it is just as important as the albums that got them here.
It may have been ten years, but Sleater-Kinney has not lost an ounce of energy. At just over a half an hour, No Cities to Love is a straightforward, blistering set of songs. The decade off seems to have brought the trio a brand new sense of motivation. After their last few albums really pushed the band to explore creatively, No Cities to Love is in the spirit of their older, more punk oriented work. Corin Hatch’s voice is still as piercing, with her vibrato and range as distinctive as before. She and Carrie Brownstein bounce off one another with ease, with the same frantic pressure and raw tenacity that they had in the 90s. It is crazy to think that this band is in their 40s, as they sound rejuvenated as ever. Hatch, Brownstein and eclectically-skilled drummer Janet Weiss manage to bring their timeless punk rock to 2015, and it is just as fresh and empowered as it was when we first heard it.
What you find here is very much Sleater-Kinney. There isn’t a wasted moment here, as it is high-energy from start to finish. Opening up with the super loose “Price Tag”, the record carries its own weight in each and every song. The yells in “Surface Envy” manage to click almost immediately, and even when they balance out with slower efforts like “Gimme Love”, the buzz from the loud head bangers like “A New Wave” keeps itself alive on all ten tracks. There is a strong balance of catharsis and complexity, as each aspect molds itself in equal measure. From the get-go, the record does not hold back, with its intensity carrying through the entire piece from start to finish.
None of this is unheard of for Sleater-Kinney, but No Cities to Love sounds like a band that started from scratch. Rather than try to re-write an older work, the band melded their maturity from their later albums, with the youthful energy of their earliest songs, along with a variety of modern indie and post-punk influences that came from their ten years apart, and put them all together in a way that only Sleater-Kinney can. What results is something truly remarkable, as No Cities to Love brings with it a sense of reverie, and nothing short of what you’d expect from these three talented musicians. It is a more mature take on the sound that made them famous, but with a force and measured attack that few bands can pull off, let alone after a ten year hiatus.
For a band like Sleater-Kinney to come back after a decade apart and create something as fresh as No Cities to Love speaks volumes to who they are. Between 1994 and 2006, these three women pushed the boundaries of punk rock, both musically and socially. Not only did they manage to incorporate a sense of complexity and depth to a genre ruled by the respective extremes of Blink-182 and Refused, but they did so as three women challenging a status quo. Combining this ethos with the dynamic influences behind indie rock, they really embodied the power of punk rock to speak out in a way that was both loud and exciting.
With No Cities to Love, kids my age don’t have to look back and blindly nod along to what Robert Christgau or St. Vincent have to say about Carrie, Corin and Janet. Sleater-Kinney is relevant once more. Instead of looking back at them as another rock group that changed everything, we can now understand how they changed everything, as No Cities to Love is just as powerful as all the other albums that came before it, with a new perspective that we in 2015 can really identify with. When Sleater-Kinney first came into force, they were defining a new generation of songwriters and individuals. Now, these songwriters and individuals, the indie rock kids and feminists alike, have found ways to rally themselves. We take for granted the work that groups like Sleater-Kinney did for us, and now we no longer can, as No Cities to Love embodies the same spirit that was new and exciting to us a mere few years ago. No Cities to Love makes it new and exciting once more.
In 2006, Sleater-Kinney announced that they were going hiatus. For many music pundits and devoted fans, this marked the end of a musical group that had meant so much to rock and its surrounding ecosystem. They inspired a new generation of individuals to challenge themselves musically and personally, inspiring the musicians and individuals that I, being a 17 year old in 2015, have taken for granted. With No Cities to Love, I can finally understand why Sleater-Kinney is as important as they are. From their raw, yet mature, punk spirit, to the rhythms that have managed to stay fresh despite a decade out of commission, No Cities to Love speaks volumes to their power as both musicians and individuals. They have managed to grow up by embracing their youth, and the results are everything they’re hopped up to be.