Album Review: Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love
Like most things in life, I was pretty late to the party on Sleater-Kinney. It was a name I always recognized after seeing advertisements for their albums in “Rolling Stone” in the 90s. But it was after we started watching “Portlandia” that I thought I should give the band’s canon a chance, heavily favoring the classic Dig Me Out and their “final” album from 2005, The Woods.
The mythology and meaning behind the band and the “riot grrrl” movement has only continued to grow in the last decade, and the name “Sleater-Kinney” continues to have a profile, thanks to guitarist Carrie Brownstein’s work on “Portlandia,” and her one-off project with Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss Wild Flag. So arriving a decade after the band’s break up, the Portland trio has returned with No Cities to Love: a return to form of sorts for the trio; working back into the brash punk/pop sensibilities that made up their earlier efforts before arriving at the bombastic, expansive sound of The Woods, No Cities is 10 tracks, clocking in at a lean 33 minutes of face melting, shredding rock and roll.
The album opens with a slight self-aware nod to the band’s reunion—whether intentional or not, in the form of the lyric, “The clothes are stiff, the fabrics itch, the fit’s a little rough.” Lyrically and musically, No Cities to Love is all “go for broke” moments, from huge shout-a-long refrains (on pretty much every song), to Weiss’ frantic drumming, the dual guitar work between Corin Tucker and Brownstein, then of course, there’s Tucker’s own other-worldly, unhinged howling vocals, something she manages to keep in check on No Cities, which is surprising given the theatrics she displayed on some of her solo tunes in the past, as well as older SK tracks like “Dig Me Out” and “The Fox.”
For someone who didn’t discover Sleater-Kinney during their initial run, I don’t have the emotional connection that some have with them. No Cities, as a whole, is an enjoyable, and often fun listen. It’s an interesting album full of juxtapositions—particularly the punk brashness of the intent with this set of ten songs, butted up against pretty meticulous, slick sounding production. It’s not the kind of album that, like, sounds like it cost a fortune to make, but it also wasn’t recorded on a 4-track in someone’s basement. You can tell that a lot of meticulous thought was put into getting back into “that Sleater-Kinney sound.”
It’s also that “sound” that turns into a bit of a corner the band back itself into early on, which is why it’s okay that this album is only 33 minutes long. The band rarely shifts out of their comfort zone when it comes to fast-paced, high-energy songwriting on No Cities, which means that after a little while, it all starts to sound a little samey.
The band has come a long way from jeans and t-shirts to the pant suits they can be seen wearing in the promotional effort behind No Cities. They’re grown women making music for other grown ups, but specifically for grown ups who are still punk rock kids deep down somewhere. It’s not a groundbreaking album, but it doesn’t need to be. In their first life, Sleater-Kinney was already groundbreaking. Don’t call it a comeback. Don’t call it a victory lap. It’s a welcome return (and return to form) for a band that did, and still has, something urgent to say with its music.