It’s Not the Cities, It’s the Weather We Love
“It’s nine AM / we must clock in / the system waits for us,” sings (or rather, wails) vocalist/guitarist Corin Tucker on “Price Tag,” the opening track of No Cities to Love, the first album from Sleater-Kinney since 2005. For the uninitiated, Sleater-Kinney started as a side project of Tucker and Carrie Brownstein in the Pacific Northwest in the early ’90s, but the magic was too strong to ignore and, along with drummer Janet Weiss, the three helped bring the riot grrrl movement to the masses. Rough riffs, vocals that pushed emotion ahead of melody and politically-charged lyrics sustained S-K through seven albums in ten years before announcing an “indefinite hiatus” in 2006. Now, with Cities, the indefinite has become finite with what may be the best release of the young year.
The opening riff of “Price Tag” is raw yet precise, slicing through the speakers like a serrated knife through a rare steak. That sound pervades No Cities to Love. At any given moment, you’re tempted to call what S-K does sloppy, but such a statement is indefensible. In their early years, when budgets were small and energy was insatiable, perhaps succinctness lost the battle to catharsis, but now the two are perfectly married. “Surface Envy” features calculated noise supporting an anthemic chorus (“We win, we lose / only together do we break the rules”), but there’s no reason to think each cacophonous chord wasn’t carefully crafted.
The title track and “A New Wave” shine in their refrains, drawing the listener into their punk-tinged world. Fame has not softened Brownstein; the Portlandia star pulls no punches in her attack on both the guitar and microphone. Tucker handles most of the lead vocal duties, but Brownstein’s edginess and honesty are felt throughout. “Bury Our Friends” explodes with emotion (“Exhume our idols / bury our friends”) as both vocalists trade off on this ode to the fear of insignificance.
That No Cities to Love is so accessible is more a reflection of the changing music scene than anything different the trio did in their approach of this album. The music evokes tension and tenacity, release and longing. It’s time we all listen to what Sleater-Kinney has to tell us, and hope that they have more lessons to impart.