THIS is the band that Sleater-Kinney was always destined to become.
I have been seriously listening to serious rock and roll since I was 5 years old - that's over 45 years - and I am not prone to exaggeration or hyperbole. This IS the GOOD STUFF! I have been listening to Sleater-Kinner off and on for about 3 years and have always suspected that they were capable of generating this kind of energy. But it seems to have all come together in the new SubPop release "The Woods".
First, a few disclaimers: (1) I consider S-K to be a "local" band (2) I have always liked the name (3) female drummers rule - Janet Weiss rules them all (4) I have a weakness for very strong-voiced female vocalists (e.g. I am excited by throaty, bluesy, hard rock vocals as performed by Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Melissa Ethridge, or Rickie Lee Jones). Ironically, I am not into lyrics - it is the fact that these vocalists add to the music with their voices and do not detract from it - that I like them.
All that being said, it is the raw energy in the drums and guitar work that put this album over the top. Don't get me wrong, Corin Tucker's vocals have plenty of energy - there were parts that reminded me of a cross between early Grace Slick (i.e. before Jefferson Airplane even) and Geddy Lee. But it is the guitar work and the presentation/arrangement of the songs that is transformational. For me, the record is building throughout until arriving at the last two songs: Track 9: "Let's Call It Love" and Track 10: "Night Light". There are several significant highlights along the way but listening to Let's Call It Love was akin to a spiritual experience for me.
I have used the word "transformational" several times and will use it some more because this album is transformational on several levels - both for the band and for me as a listener. There has been the obligatory discussion in the local print media, online, and on the local alternative rock stations about how this album represents a transformation for Sleater- Kinney as well as for Subpop. But that is not what I am talking about. I would like to predict that this album will be as transformational for S-K as Jimmy Hendrix's performance at the Monterey Pop Festival was supposed to have been. For me, as a listener, this album represents a return to the rock and roll energy that I experienced when I "came of age" as a hard rock listener in the 1968-1971 time frame - through the magic of San Francisco at the height of Bill Graham;s Filmore West,, Woodstock, the advent of Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who, Big Brother, Jefferson Airplane, Jimmy Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Deep Purple, and Black Sabboth. My musical tastes have evolved and I have recently enjoyed Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, Audioslave, The Black Keys, and Modest Mouse - as well as an Indie "Power Blues" trio fronted by Sonny Moorman. These all give me enjoyment and are, at times, even exciting because of their energy and raw rock and roll. But this S-K album has reached back through time and tied it all together; filling a void that I did not realize was so large. It also transported me back in time to the time of those other bands that I mentioned from my youth. The 3rd track "What's Mine Is Yours"took me back to those unimaginable west coast concerts of the late `60s. The 4th track "Jumpers" somehow reminded me of the Bossa Nova craze of that time period even though it is not a Bossa Nova. (I hope I am not scaring anyone with this retro, prehistoric, talk - these were experiences that I had and were only meant to provide some perspective on the extent to which this album impressed me.)
When I first listened to the Queens of the Stone Age album "Songs for The Deaf" with Dave Grohl a few years ago I said "This is the band that the Foo Fighters COULD have been", meaning that they were not hampered by ballads and played only songs with high energy. Even Audioslave feels obligated to water down their sound with the occasional ballad although until today they were probably my favorite band. But when I listened to "The Woods", I knew that this was the band that S-K was destined to become. It all comes to a head in the 11 minute long (!) Track 9: "Let's Call It Love". From the opening guitar, which would make a young Ozzy Osborne fronted Black Sabboth proud, the guitar work in this song builds and builds until. I swear to God, in the 6th minute of the song Carrie Brownstein is channeling Jimmy Hendrix. And this leads to a finish that would make a young Pete Townsend quite proud. Just when you think "this can't get any better", the album segue's into Track 10 : "Night Light" which is perhaps not as personally spiritual as "Let's Call It Love", is still a fantastic finish to an album that continues to surprise throughout.
While this is the band that S-K was always destined to become, I can only imagine where they can go from here. I can't wait to find out. I just hope that they get the attention and the following that they deserve from the iPod generation that buys one track at a time and might miss the masterpiece that this album is as a whole. Frankly, it sucks that they are only opening for The White Stripes next month at The Gorge - S-K should be the headliners! I hope they're still kicking out the jams when Im 90.
UPDATE: 10/29/05 Some time has passed and I've had a chance to reflect more on this album. I have to say that I do listen to Audioslave much more than this album (both Audioslave albums) and if I were forced to pick between those albums and this one, I would probaby let this one go. And I have "rediscoverd" Primus and a number of Les Claypool's side projects which are also on my "top ten" for recent listening along with Ugly Casanova. However, this album still retains it initial appeal and excitement when I am in the mood for raw, driving rock energy. It is right in there with my Black Keys CDs (about once per week) and well worth the investment if that is what you aree looking for.