Sleat-Kinney started making waves in 1995 off the back of the Riot Grrrl scene of the 90s. Their albums in the 00s made shifted towards the mainstream and people really started to pay attention. 10 years on, 2015's No Cities to Love proves that this all female band are still relevant, and have plenty to say.

Sleater-Kinney
Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Label: Sub-Pop

four stars Sleater-Kinney

There’s something very special about Sleater-Kinney and their music. They approach their art with agitated conviction that is both playful and purposeful. Janet Weiss’s drum beats pound what the heart feels while Corin Tucker’s trembling vibrato is tightly woven within Carrie Brownstein’s frenetic guitar work.

No Cities is a rhythmic and dizzying record that encapsulates a punk attitude that doesn’t let up for its 32 minute duration. Power pop gems like Gimme Love, with Weiss’s machine gun drum rolls, demonstrate the band’s unwavering sonic assault as much as their lyrics attest. Although they are a band with their feet firmly in the present, 2002 album One Beat suggests their music as combat rock but that’s a term as applicable today as it was then.

Price Tag is a fierce opener that packs a mighty punch aided by John Goodmanson’s huge production but album highlight comes with Surface Envy, a classic, screeching Sleater-Kinney number firmly in the red, bags of girl power and a chorus as catchy as Ebola, chanting “We win, we lose/Only together do we break the rules”. No more are they (modestly) carrying the torch for a kind of Riot Grrrl movement, they are carving an important feminist ideology in their music: no one is powerless, particularly not women. What’s more, in terms of their feminist agenda, they are intentionally alternative to any kind of stereotypical expectation of what women can do.  

Following their hiatus in 2006, they have stepped back into the studio with something to say; not because of any kind of financial debt or to do a big reunion tour but because they are indebted to their cause. The title, No Cities to Love forces you to challenge it as a directive and consider what you do love, and that’s the most important message on this record.

The album encourages the listener to break away from forced perceptions and ideals that dictate our lives; to understand the relationship we (can) have with people and things that we may take for granted: “We never really checked/We never checked the price tag/When the cost comes in it’s gonna be high!” (Price Tag). Moreover, the city as metaphor suggests our individual space within a space (a claustrophobic thought, but intentional nonetheless) and invites us to consider what role we play in the grander scheme of it all, especially if anyone has ever felt too small or sequestered (Bury Our Friends). The theme of alienation is heavy in No Cities to Love with ideas of being estranged not only because of your own social skin but, more specifically, because of the false hope of a promise land. Tracks like Price Tag vent that frustration of inequality and real life power dynamics through Sleater-Kinney’s tried and tested post-punk anthems.

These anthems encourage individualism and strength within debasing hierarchies, demanding transparent freedom for women and outsiders alike (Gimme Love). In a society which is all too biased towards what men have to say, women are now speaking out more than ever, which is great but it seems that it is merely a sour reminder that things haven’t changed all that much and the city is still, largely, a man’s world. To this end, Sleater-Kinney celebrate the importance of free speech among outsiders (both men and women), connecting with everyone equally.

Despite the fact that No Cities to Love reflects agitation, there is an ironic optimism that breaks free from society’s material gloom, as evidenced in some choice lines: “it’s not the cities, it’s the weather we love” (No Cities to Love) and “This dark world is precious to me” (Bury Our Friends’. As the album’s closing track, Fade, reminds us, “If there’s no tomorrow/You better live” so why not live harmoniously and learn who we are in our own time?

Key tracks: Price Tag, Surface Envy, No Cities to Love, A New Wave, Gimme Love, Bury Our Friends, Fade  

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