A Crash Course in Sleater-Kinney, So You Can Get Excited About Their Reunion


How’s your Monday going? Could it benefit from some rad tunes that give you power in every fiber of your being? Are you scared yet? Well, you shouldn’t be, because today is a great day. Today, Sleater-Kinney announced their reunion, and of course they did it in a we-don’t-fuck-around manner that mirrors their artistic approach. (Lest you need reminding that “doing it right” is a frustratingly rare tactic for band reunions amidst these “Oh, Coachella will pay us how much to reunite?” reconciliations). There will be a big tour, there will be a new album (No Cities to Love, out January 20 via Sub Pop), and there will be joy. Oh yeah, and there’s a new single, “Bury Our Friends,” which Sleater-Kinney hid in their new vinyl box set, Start Together (out tomorrow). As if you didn’t already think they were clever already… or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you have no idea. Allow me to just say, I am excited for the very moment when you discover that. Sleater-Kinney is not generally a band that offers up diminishing returns if you invest in them.

If you’re not a Sleater-Kinney fan but do pay attention to what they call “music tastemakers,” you may have noticed that everyone is LOSING THEIR SHIT over the reunion. Let’s say you know some basic facts about them: that the short-lived supergroup Wild Flag features two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney, that Portlandia co-creator Carrie Brownstein is their guitarist and co-vocalist (along with Corin Tucker), that they emerged from the ashes of Riot Grrrl and were named for a freeway in Olympia, that taught countless Rock Dudes about feminism via guitar solos.

You may be thinking, “Oh man, I should probably listen to this band, right?” So you go to Spotify and there are just so many S-K albums (“S-K” is the slang, use it, you will look “in the know”). There are positive reviews for all seven of these albums produced over the course of a decade, even the last one, 2005’s The Woods. “How is that even possible?” you may be asking yourself, since many bands’ discographies are expected to exhibit artistic decline over time (or at least that’s what critics like to say). It is possible. Sleater-Kinney make it possible (so do The Beatles, for the record). They’re the opposite of Weezer in this regard.

Now you’re in a real conundrum, aren’t you? Where do you even start? You can start anywhere, but I’d suggest not starting with their self-titled first album from 1995, unless you are very much a “punk person” (if you are, you’ve probably already heard Sleater-Kinney though, no?). I say that because conventional wisdom about rock bands often leads people to start at the beginning. It’s not that you’ll be disappointed, but rather, my personal preference. Two brilliant highlights of their early career if you want to start at the start.

While they didn’t experience a marked decline as they move through their discography, Sleater-Kinney did evolve and tweak their sound. On their third album, 1997’s Dig Me Out, the band — now with drummer Janet Weiss — incorporated more ’60s pop hooks while still maintaining their ferocity.

Their next album, 1999’s The Hot Rock, matched angular guitar-playing with personal confessions about infidelity, relationships, and the self. It’s definitely their most confessional record.

Sleater-Kinney subsequent two albums, 2000′s All Hands on the Bad One and 2002’s One Beat, represent the best of their political and cultural commentary. While All Hands offers up nuanced takes on gender and society, One Beat made post-9/11 reflections without being reactionary.

As for 2005’s The Woods, it seemed as if the band understood exactly what fans would want from them as a final note. It shows immense maturity, revisits familiar themes, and remains one of the fiercest indie rock records of the 2000s.

Discussing new album No Cities to Love, Carrie Brownstein told NPR Music today, “Sleater-Kinney isn’t something you can do half-assed or half-heartedly. We have to really want it. And you have to feed that hunger and have the energy to. I’m not saying we need to be in a dark place to be in Sleater-Kinney. In fact, we could be in the best places in our lives. But we have to be willing to push, because the entity that is this band will push right back.”

In Sub Pop’s press release today, Brownstein echoes that ferocity: “We sound possessed on these songs, willing it all — the entire weight of the band and what it means to us — back into existence.”

Now that you’re primed, you best brace yourself.