They called Carrie Brownstein home from Portlandia; they politely asked Corin Tucker to stop making her quite excellent solo albums; they pointed out that the Shins aren't cool to Janet Weiss. Sleater-Kinney, one of the most important punk rock bands of the modern era, are back, and No Cities To Love is their new document. It's been ten years. We made it.
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‘No Cities To Love’ sounds like a Sleater-Kinney record. I know: so it should. But this is unreal; nearly every other returning indie rock band of this band’s generation has come back like a shade of a former self. Guided By Voices returned with a lot of albums and no songwriting, the Dismemberment Plan released one of the most embarrassing pieces of dad stand-up I’ve ever heard, and The Wrens are still making jokes about the fact that their new album isn’t out yet. There’s something different at work here; when I hear the callous riffs and furious scowls of ‘No Cities To Love’, though, I feel like the word ‘hiatus’ is warranted. Sleater-Kinney went away, but they never ceased to exist. This is the same band.
There’s one difference: they’re better now. ‘No Cities to Love’ boasts stronger songs with more refined lyrical manifestos and bolder choruses. It’s catchy so as to be thought-provoking and fun at the same time, delivering a couple treatises on capitalism and solidarity while rolling through hooks that retread old melodies and make them better. “Surface Envy” feels like it’s shot straight out of the band’s watermark, ‘One Beat’, retreading the urgent guitar of “Far Away” and adding new riffs that can only be described as sick. The record’s title track allows for one of the band’s most straight-forward rock songs, one that properly separates verse from chorus in a way this free-flowing band of punks have never achieved before: the verses are sly and laid bare, Corin Tucker limiting her vocals and allowing the band to have full impact in the chorus (wherein she inflects “citAYs!” in old-school S-K fashion, like a vicious outburst targeted anyone and everyone listening).
It would be easy for a band to embarrass themselves with material this honest to the good ol’ days, and Sleater-Kinney are definitely different people now: Corin Tucker has her band, Carrie Brownstein makes fun of musicians and whatever the fuck “hipsters” are on Portlandia, and Janet Weiss has drummed for the Shins. They aren’t the same punx, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t feel like they’re imitating themselves with ‘No Cities To Love’; rather, they’ve just drifted back to their roles, as if being in a band for the first time in a few years is just like picking up an instrument you used to play. The difference, really, is that they’re more content, now: they own the corny-as-hell chorus, satirising it immediately with a lyric that mocks what they’re doing: “It seems to me the only thing that comes from fame is mediocrity”. They’re happy to play a riff on “Fade” that reminded us of Guns ‘N’ Roses and the Stone Roses at the same time. And on “A New Wave”, the band come in for a giddy joined vocal chant that sounds as potent and collaborative as any of their old interplay: it says “we’re back!” louder than any announcement could. Sleater-Kinney will release another album. They will release another five.
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