December 19, 2009

albums of the decade (VII)

- One Beat (Kill Rock Stars, 2002)
- The Woods (Sub Pop, 2005)

Sleater-Kinney was a great band. They might even have been the best band. Suffice it to say, I was pretty sad when I heard they'd broken up. When I first discovered this all female group from Olympia, WA, it was in the pages of a music magazine commemorating the best albums of the 90s. Because of this lame introduction I've always associated them with that decade, but, looking back now, it seems to me that Sleater-Kinney had an even stronger run in the 00s. They kicked off this decade with All Hands on the Bad One (2000), a revitalized return to form after the more introspective Hot Rock (1999). They've got an intensity -a sense of urgency in their delivery- that only bolsters their (sometimes cringworthy) social criticism. With Janet Weiss on drums, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein trading vocals and guitars, Sleater-Kinney proved to be one of the heaviest (and most exciting) indie bands in America for nearly two decades.

But it was their impassioned response to 9/11 and the Bush administration, One Beat, that really broke them for me. "Combat Rock" is still, to my mind, the best cry of dissent an American band could conjure in post-9/11 America: "Show your love for your country: go out and spend some cash!" Other great moments include the anthemic "O2," which explores escapism and the environment, and "Oh!," which may be the album's standout track: a catchy battle cry that's one part doo-wop, one part arena punk. At the beginning of the decade, it seemed like every album was either a commemorative response or a sign of respect for the American ideal. In most cases, it was nauseating, but out of that mess of sentimentality and patriotism came Sleater-Kinney, a politically relevant band that refused easy comforts and pushed itself to craft some of the finest garage-punk of the decade.

Equally fuelled by a spirit of dissent, The Woods displays Sleater-Kinney at the height of their musical powers. Here, the band shows it's still driven to experiment, but rocking hard is the biggest priority. With fantastic production (a fuller sound and no shortage of feedback) perfectly suited to Sleater-Kinney's aggressive approach, The Woods proved to be the band's most accessible (and arguably their finest) album. The power of its blistering opener -"The Fox"- still blows me away, while a song like "Modern Girl," one of the band's most memorable melodies, will never get old.

God bless those girls.

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