Thursday, March 05, 2015

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Sleater-Kinney plus The Grannies

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
March 6, 2015

In some alternative universe, some parallel world somewhere over some rainbow, the return of Sleater-Kinney in 2015 with an album as riveting as No Cities to Love is considered to be as big as the return of the Beatles was in 1975. (This is a separate reality, remember.)

Of course, it’s not quite like that here in the material world.

Truth is, most folks don’t value rock ’n’ roll as much as many of us used to. Perhaps Sleater really was the greatest band alive when it went on “hiatus” nearly a decade ago.

But outside of alt-rock or punk rock circles, it wasn’t and, sadly, still isn’t universally known. I’ve got a feeling that Carrie Brownstein is more famous for her co-starring role on the comedy series Portlandia than she is for her role with Sleater-Kinney.

So, for those not familiar with this important band, here’s the lowdown: This Pacific Northwest group is a trio with Brownstein and Corin Tucker on vocals and guitar and Janet Weiss on drums. Sleater-Kinney’s self-titled debut album was released in 1995, at the tail end of the Riot Grrrl scene, but S-K quickly transcended the generic girl-punk sound.

Vox recently described the group as a “left-leaning, feminism-preaching” band. Maybe that’s true, but the beauty of Sleater-Kinney is that it rarely, if ever, sounded like it was preaching. Any politics in the band’s songs were subtle and personal — no sloganeering or polemics. The group grew and actually intensified through the years, never losing its original frantic energy. It split up after its 2005 album, The Woods.

We rock ’n’ roll die-hards tend to view comebacks with jaundiced, jaded eyes, despite some good ones returning in recent years — Mission of Burma, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and the Afghan Whigs, for example, came back with strong records. No Cities to Love is also one of the good ones: It’s an unmitigated joy.

I consider Wild Flag, the 2011 album by the group with the same name, which includes two-thirds of Sleater — Brownstein and Weiss — (as well as singer/guitarist Mary Timony, who fronted the ’90s indie band Helium) to be a precursor of No Cities to Love. Shortly before then, Tucker made a solo record she described as “middle-aged-mom” music. (As I said back then, despite my senior citizenship, I’m still not ready for “middle-aged-mom” stuff.) But in 2012, she came back with a harder edge with Kill My Blues. With that and Wild Flag, I should have known that reviving Sleater-Kinney wasn’t an impossible dream.

No Cities opens with “Price Tag” — with what first appears as a lazy, almost bluesy groove. But seconds later, the drums kick in, the beat speeds up, and Tucker starts singing urgently: “The bell goes off/The buzzer coughs/The traffic starts to buzz,” and all of a sudden we’re in the middle of the rat race, punching a timecard at a crappy job, stocking shelves and worrying. Tucker sings as if she’s being crushed by the pressure — and the music is even more anxious than the lyrics.

Similarly, the stark, muscular “Gimme Love” is about someone who was born “too small, too weak, too weird” and who is “numb from the wicked this life imparts,” while “Surface Envy” employs images of drowning, though it’s a hopeful song. In the last verse, Tucker sings, “I’m breaking the surface, tasting the air/Reaching for things I never could before.”

But all is not so heavy on this album. In fact, “A New Wave,” sung by Brownstein, who also plays a distorted, rubber-toned guitar, reminds me of The B52s. (The official video for this tune features a cartoon version of the band playing for characters from Bob’s Burgers.)

In the final chorus of “Bury Our Friends,” Tucker and Brownstein sing, “We speak in circles, we dance in code/Untame and hungry, on fire in the cold/ Exhume our idols, bury our friends/We’re wild and weary but we won’t give in.”

Here’s hoping Sleater-Kinney stays wild and never gives in.

Sleater-Kinney is coming to Albuquerque for a show at the Sunshine Theater on April 28. I’ve got my ticket. You should get yours. Visit

Also recommended:

* Ballsier by The Grannies. America needs this music. The country needs musicians like these, who aren’t afraid to dress up like nightmarish parodies of old ladies and play crazy, aggressive, funny, profane, politically incorrect, and ridiculous music.

The Grannies don’t care if they make it on network TV or get invited to the White House — or anywhere else where there is polite company. They don’t care that they’ll never play the Super Bowl — though anyone who has survived one of their shows knows the Super Bowl would be much cooler if they did.

This album is punk rock — punk rock as the good Lord intended it to sound. It’s 11 snot-slingin’, beer-spittin’, breakneck, gut-bustin’ punk rock songs with titles like “Wade in Bloody Water,” “Outta My Skull,” and “Hillbilly With Knife Skills,” And there’s a crunching cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right.”
Grannies in action, San Marcos, Texas. 2014

Then there are a couple of remixes of Grannies songs, my favorite being a total re-imagining of  one of my Grannies faves, “The Corner of Fuck and You” A producer named Ben Addison used flutes, soft horns and an ultra-cheesy beat to turn the song into something that sounds like it's from some bad British swingin’ ‘60s romantic comedy

The album is produced by Seattle titan Jack Endino, who’s been behind the knobs on some of your finer grunge and punk records.

Blog Bonuses

First off, here's a live show broadcast on NPR a couple of weeks ago CLICK HERE

Here's that Bob;s Burgers video

Here are a couple of songs by The Grannies. First, an old one

Then there's this remix ...

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