Music Reviews
The Woods

Sleater-Kinney The Woods

(Sub Pop) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Dear Corin, Carrie and Janet,

I remember when One Beat came out - my freshman year of college, which I guess wasn't that long ago at all - and I was still reeling from All Hands on the Bad One, still my favorite of your albums, even though they say it shouldn't be. I missed your show at the Beachland Ballroom that year, and I've been kicking myself every day since. You can imagine how I felt when I heard you were recording a new album, something to top '02's, something new and exciting that wasn't like what we remembered.

All good albums take a while to get used to, I always say. So maybe it's not such a bad thing that my first reaction to The Woods was a lot more like confusion than awe. The Woods? The Fox? Wilderness? Had my favorite girl band gone the way of batik skirts, sandalwood incense and astrological obsession? The extended psychedelic guitar solos and freeform song structure would have me believe that yes, you had in fact fallen down the new age manhole. About ten spins in, I think I started to get a feel for what you were going for, though. Raw, right? Gritty? Experimental? Except... it doesn't quite work out that way.

There's not a whole lot that's new with this record, even if some of it is new for you. Although I haven't read a single pejorative insinuation about the Hendrix-esque solos (and you're a legend, Carrie, I swear to you), I still can't quite grasp the innovation that everybody seems to think is beating them over the head. We've already worn ourselves thin on psychedelia. Talent aside, it was pretty kitschy to be into that stuff the first time around, and entirely impossible to listen to without envisioning droves of dreadlocked neo-hippies lolling their heads back and forth and flailing their arms like spiritually aware idiots. What's more, the lo-fi effect of this polished studio album is relatively old hat for your die-hards who remember the sound of the Villa Villakula EP. And it's great, don't get me wrong - part of the Sleater-Kinney signature seems to be the slightly tinny, "What exactly was that word?" charm. But I wouldn't really call it new.

I suppose this isn't so much a critique of you guys as much as of your reviewers. They're all agog, staring at you with wide-eyed, slobbery-tongued adulation as if they'd never heard riot rock before in their lives. The Woods is solid, well crafted and intensely energetic, but a magnum opus it is not.

Still, there are some serious gems you've come up with. The feedback that opens the album and plunges us into The Fox is pretty sensational. It's like your very own Sgt. Pepper, luring us with a simple story and Corin's wails of "Land ho!" that, frankly, get me a little excited. The next most ear-catching number, What's Mine Is Yours, is a little more typical, beginning with a rhythmic two chord beat that explodes into manic guitars and screams, not to mention the obligatory trippy guitar break to tie it all together. Entertain, the first single, has everything a feminist anthem needs these days: a scathing critique of a corporate industry (music, in this case), background vocals trading with the lead for emphasis, and counting ("1,2,3/If you want to take a shot at me.../1,2,3,/If you haven't had enough of me..." Don't ask me why, but the counting is ever present in these songs, from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Le Tigre). Rollercoaster is catchy and upbeat, maybe more reminiscent of Oh!, while Let's Call It Love is a full blown screaming, angry foot-stomper that's good enough to make me forget its five-minute show off guitar solo.

Not a bad set, girls. Your talents won't go unheard or unappreciated, and I'm sorry that I can't side with the rest of the adoring masses in claiming that this is your Best One Yet. In my opinion, you're better off sticking to what's tried and true - but you're still my #1 Must Have... pun, unfortunately, intended.

Yours in rebellion and recalcitrance,

Gabbie Nirenburg