Sleater-Kinney No Cities to Love(Sub Pop) Buy it from Insound
Carrie Brownstein said that Sleater-Kinney’s first album in a decade isn’t a reunion, but a continuation. But they didn’t pick up where they left off. Where The Woods made sense as a final album -- a departure from their usual sound, an experimentation with genre and concept -- No Cities to Love is both a return to their familiar riot grrl roots and an unabashed demand to be heard again, to be idolized and adored and feared as rock icons.
In a complete dream-team interview between Sleater-Kinney and the girls of Broad City, both supergroups aired their vitriol against the media’s constant deconstruction of their respective work into the female versus the real (an “all girl band”, a “female comedy duo”… ultimately a dismissal of any talent, boiling them down to gender and nothing else). This feeling of injustice is patently palpable throughout No Cities to Love, a brazenly confident record that defines itself; there is no room for dismissal. The record commands attention as one of the greatest rock records in recent history, not “for a girl band,” but for any band.
A response to this injustice, the album is a cogently crafted thesis of confidence, of tenacity, and of togetherness. Price Tag is such a vibrant opening track, an exciting “damn the man” that somehow doesn’t seem overdone. It’s instantly recognizable as vintage Sleater-Kinney. By the time Fangless starts, the record makes the brilliant switch from the expected to the declarative: “I've been reassigned, put back in line/With the other who disappeared….You broke me down but I'm not undone.” Brownstein’s guitar and Tucker’s vocals are absolutely untouchable here.
Surface Envy is the first really riotous rock song on the record, and while the lyrics are a little too on the nose, they feel good. Nothing proves a renaissance so much as this track: “I feel so much stronger now that you're here/We've got so much to do, let me make that clear/We win, we lose/only together do we break the rules.” The song is a total earworm, and it breaks down into the most satisfying, distorted guitar solo that begs you to rock out with your cock out. It’s obvious that these are musicians who are better together, who inspire one another. They are each others’ muses, and it shows.
Oddly enough, the title track is not as strong as I would have expected, perhaps a little too far into repetitive and angsty territory. By no means is it a weak song, but it pales a bit in comparison to an album full of stand-outs. A New Wave brings with it a new excitement. Tucker is the star of this absolutely infectious track, from her perfect bassline mimicry (fun fact for the uninitiated: Sleater-Kinney has no bass, but Tucker’s guitar is tuned down far enough to emulate one) to her signature staccato vocal stepping stones. The gorgeous chorus is a perfectly blended melodic harmony.
No Anthems is another in the “we are a phoenix rising” camp. A powerfully confident and angry track, it ranges from a come hither whisper to a fuck-off chorus. The band defies outside definition, demanding attention and agency; “I once was an anthem/that sang the song of me/but now there are no anthems.” Bury Your Friends has the odd distinction of having arguably the weakest verses while simultaneously boasting the most powerful chorus. Lyrically, however, this is an anthem that combines all of the record’s themes: they’re back, they’re fucking glorious, and they won’t listen to your pigeonholing. It’s hard not to chant alongside: “Exhume our idols and bury our friends/We're wild and weary but we won't give in.”
Clocking in at a mere 32 minutes, the album is conceptually and sonically tight. Surely no true rock song can exceed the three minute mark, not counting the fade-out. It’s the perfect blend of fast and slow, up and down. It’s rare that I break down almost every track on an album, but it’s a testament to its pithy, powerful statement. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I heard an album that paid so much attention to song order. It breaks out with a strong, wake-up of a guitar riff on Price Tag (“It’s 9am/we must clock in/the system waits for us”), and ends on a quite literal “the end” on the aptly named closing track, Fade. Harkening back to the opener -- “we never checked the price tag…./I was lured by the devil/I was lured by the cost” -- the album ends full circle: “Oh, the price that we paid/my dearest nightmare/my conscience/the end.” So final is this delicate refrain that it makes me worry that no future albums are forthcoming, regardless of the truth.23 January, 2015 - 08:58 — Gabbie Nirenburg