No Cities To Love

Written by: TL on 09/02/2015 18:08:32

With them going on hiatus in 2006, the last time all female indie-punk trio Sleater-Kinney put out an album - 2005's "The Woods" - was barely a functional website. So while this year's comeback album "No Cities To Love" is in fact the band's eigth overall, these will be the first words written about the otherwise prolific American band in our pages. Listeners as new to the band as we are, will find a new album with ten tightly wound tracks, thriving on quirky, staccato guitar leads (Franz Ferdinand comes to mind as a comparison), a pulse of steady drums and down-tuned rhythm guitar, and the vocals of Corin Tucker, who sings in a distinct way which is more about being expressive and attitude-filled than about being super melodious (think Karen O on early Yeah Yeah Yeahs records for comparison).

Even to newcomers however, the songwriting experience Tucker shares with bandmates Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss - on guitar and drums respectively - should quickly be evident. Weiss' percussion confidently regulates the intensity and provides backbone for the shenanigans Tucker and Brownstein exchange on guitar, these being carefully arranged in back and forths where focus is shifted between Brownstein's higher lead and Tucker's bassy rhythm, with room to spare for the latter's commanding yelps. Content with a direct approach to structure, it's clear that the intention is to raise eyebrows primarily via unusual riffs and thought-provoking lyrics. The band is renowned for their political content, and already on opener "Price Tag" you hear that they like to build lyrical structures which expose problems in the machinery of society at large.

On one hand then, the praise heaped upon the band mostly everywhere else makes sense. They sound unusual, they have relevant messages in spades and it only takes a few listens to feel that their songs are easily recognisable, even catchy. What it should seem prudent for a newcomer to ask however, is whether this necessarily makes the band good? Intelligent lyrics alone cannot make great songs, they need to work in tandem with compelling sounds and moods, and while the songs on "No Cities To Love" maintain consistent drive and direction and have clear signature riffs to make note of, it soon becomes apparent that a majority glide by without breaking new ground or even standing out in the context of the album's total. "Price Tag", "A New Wave" and "Bury Our Friends" have bits of melody that take exception and rouse the attention, but elsewhere it too often feels like the album's dry, fuzzy style just wants to get in your face and make an argument.

Focusing on making an argument sounds very punk on paper of course, and it seems like that exact conceptual cohesion has earned the band a free pass in the media at large, placing the "critical" conversation almost entirely on their terms. Really though, "No Cities To Love" seems built from a very narrow idea of what a record can do. In terms of emotion, it feels pretty much invariably indignant from start to finish, in a somewhat impersonal way, and the stylistical breadth of expression is equally narrowly restrained. So while it may seem like controversial discourse, there's an argument to be heard that "No Cities To Love" isn't actually that much fun to listen to strictly musically speaking, and that it would be a lot easier to keep attention on the album if it explored more diversely outside of the band's seemingly fortified comfort zone. If you were a fan of the band beforehand, or if you enjoy music based primarily on agreeing with lyrical sentiments, then you will likely enjoy the album as an empowering headphone listen, but if you're coming in looking to be convinced of why you've kept seeing the band's name around, adjust your expectations for a record of solid, yet repetitive and ultimately quickly forgetable handywork.


Download: A New Wave, Bury Our Friends, Price Tag
For The Fans Of: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Kills, Hole

Release date 19.01.2015
Sub Pop

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