Archive for the ‘Sleater-Kinney’ Category

Matthew Stoff’s Top 10 Albums of 2015

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Regular LIFE IS NOISE contributor Matthew Stoff shares 10 of his favourite releases from the year that was.

Ten albums seems like way too few for a year as packed with great releases as 2015. Because of that, I wanted to talk about the albums that I keep coming back to, rather than trying to come up with a more definitive list of albums of the year. You might not think of these as the best releases of 2015, but they’re the ones that spoke to me the most. With that in mind, here’s my end of year list:

1. Algiers – Algiers
Cold wave, Marxism, and soul might seem like a funny combination, but after Algiers self-titled album I can’t imagine what my life would be without it. This is one of most innovative albums of the decade, and its hard-hitting, courageous, and challenging political commentary is the icing on the cake.

2. Gold Class – It’s You
I can’t get enough of Gold Class. They’re smart, passionate, and totally authentic. Their live show is amazing too. Gold Class are indisputably the best traditional-sounding post-punk band in Australia at the moment. Maybe even in the world.

3. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
Sleater-Kinney’s revival album could have been a lot of things. It could have been out of touch, or lacking energy, or just a simple rehash of their old material. What it was, was nothing less than a masterpiece. It feels as though they’d never left at all.

4. Ought – Sun Coming Down
Sun Coming Down is a weird album. It’s post-punk, but it isn’t really post-punk, with atypical vocals, rambling song structures, and pop-but-not-really-pop-at-all melodies. A singular experience.

5. Heat Dust – Heat Dust
Heat Dust play traditional post-punk really hard and really fast, and I liked this album a lot more than the similarly inspired recent release from Protomartyr. Your results might vary. They’re both incredible, high-octane albums, even if this is the one that made my final list.

6. Ceremony – The L-Shaped Man
Some people might see this album as a contentious choice. It’s pretty generic, and looking at reviews after the fact, it feels like mine is one of the only ones that presents the album in a positive light. But nostalgia is powerful thing, and my nostalgia for the indie pop-infused post-punk revival of the early 2000s is very strong indeed. The mix of that and Ceremony’s lingering hardcore influences gives this album a novel sound that keeps me coming back for more.

7. Deafcult – Deafcult
As far as dream pop goes, these guys are the reigning kings. Dense, melodic shoegaze with great production, played at ear-shattering volume from a Brisbane band. What’s not to love?

8. Mourn – Mourn
Everything about this band is so unlikely. Their place of origin, their age, their musical inspirations: everything that makes them who they are. But that’s why this release is so important. It’s got a youthful sound to it. A sense that anything is possible. And it largely succeeds at all things it’s set out to do. A truly inspiring album.

9. JuliaWhy? – Wheel
I reviewed this album once for 4ZZZ and never mentioned it again, probably because it falls between the lines of various genres, and was hard to compare with anything I wrote about for LIFE IS NOISE this year. But I wanted to mention it here, because it’s a fantastic album, combining high energy delivery with lo-fi production, and subtle feminist politics. My choice for sleeper hit album of the year.

10. Metz – Metz II
Sure, it’s a little shallow and not too different from the first Metz album, yet the brutal but fantastically melodic noise rock of Metz still brings a smile to my face whenever I hear it, and that’s enough for me.

Sleater-Kinney — No Cities to Love

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Sleater-Kinney return this month with a new album after a nine year break from performing and recording. Forged in the revolutionary fires of the riot grrrl scene in Olympia, Washington, the band grew from the punchy feminist punk rock of self-titled debut album to the swirling psychedelic hard rock of The Woods before breaking up in 2006. The band released seven critically acclaimed albums during the first twelve years of their career, earning them the title of “best American punk band ever” from the Rolling Stone, and a loyal, passionate fanbase. But nine years is a long absence. Does their latest album live up to the hype?

Sleater-Kinney were a band of constant evolution. Not content with boundaries of riot grrrl or punk, they experimented with classic rock, hardcore, goth, and even indie pop, leading to a sound which changed dramatically between releases. It would have been difficult to come up with a more intricate, layered album than The Woods from 2005, so 2015’s No Cities Left to Love sees the band go in the opposite direction: making a Sleater-Kinney album stripped down to its barest, most consistent inspirations. Opening track “Price Tag” establishes the tone with a simple, single-note guitar riff offset by a big, distorted chord progression and pitched, driving vocals. The noise builds throughout the song, giving way to a heavy, punk rock chorus. “Fangless” takes a jazzy 4/4 drum beat, adds parallel guitar riffs and a strident vocal melody to create a subtle sort of pop song, while “Surface Envy” mixes Television’s buzzy American post-punk with a familiar riot grrrl aesthetic: “We win, we lose. Only together do we break the rules,” Tucker and Brownstein shout, a rallying cry that effortlessly asserts itself over clashing drums and discordant guitar.

There’s a skilful sort of minimalism to the album, straddling the line between melody and noise. We hear the urgency of punk and the angularity of post-punk, pressed into the structure of a pop song and driven on by Corin Tucker’s intense and commanding vocals. This is the basic design on No Cities to Love, and nothing makes this structure clearer than leading single “Bury Our Friends” where a high guitar line riffs above a growling low, and a drum beat rumbles in the background in a sign of the storm to come. They drop behind the vocals in the verse, coming back together for a huge chorus, lead on by the dual melodic vocals of Tucker and Brownstein. The sound is consistent and studied, but entirely unique — driving punk and post-punk, leading to a sensory overload in the more melodic choruses. It’s careful, subtle songwriting, harking back to the sound of popular mid-nineties albums Call the Doctor and Dig Me Out, while representing an evolution for the band. It’s simultaneously a continuation of the stadium rock-ish sound of The Woods and a return to the scrappy punk rock of their origins. It’s a clean, melodic rock album with a razor post-punk edge, a satisfying and addictive combination.

Writing a follow up release to a musical career as illustrious as Sleater-Kinney’s is a daunting proposal, even more so after almost a decade away. But the result defies expectations — No Cities Left to Love is a powerful, fantastic album, able to stand alongside their finest old material while sounding unlike anything they’ve done before. The band have matured, but they haven’t lost their edge. It’s a little like they never left at all.

No Cities to Love is out now via Sub Pop.