ARTS

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August 16, 2002

Sleater-Kinney takes on success, September 11

One Beat

Sleater-Kinney

Kill Rock Stars

A lot has happened since Sleater-Kinney's All Hands on the Bad One release in 2000. Time magazine named them "America's Best Rock Band". Corin Tucker had a baby named Marshal Tucker Bangs. Carrie has been working on an independent movie called "Group." September 11th happened. Yet, no output from the band. That's about to change on August 20th,when they release the much anticipated One Beat. If you have a good computer, you can already hear the album on their website, www.killrockstars.com/sleater-kinney/.

With the return of producer John Goodmanson from the Dig Me Out days, you'd almost expect a homecoming to their signature edgy, unpolished sound. Expect better. In fact, there are spots on this album that have more raw energy than anything since Call the Doctor, but with all the maturity that the band has developed since The Hot Rock and All Hands. The sound is much richer, with many more layers than any prior outing. In fact, Sleater-Kinney's counterpoint almost begins to approach the majesty of a cathedral organ and choir. The guitars develop a monolithic wall of sound that cannot be pierced, nor gotten around. This album won't disappoint any Sleater-Kinney fan, no matter what era she may be partial to.

Though you can hear plenty of straight-ahead words and guitar punk rock, there's tons more. Just like every rock band in the world, there's a fresh electronic element, but unlike everyone else, the instrument is a theremin, an earlier invention than the now-common synthesizer. There's an element of soul, especially in the last song "Sympathy," which, if not for Corin's distinctive sound (a familiar Olympia voice from the South, reminiscent of Kurt Cobain's), you could mistake for a song on The Gossip.

The impact of September 11th can definitely be felt on this album. "Far Away", (which New York must have seemed from the Pacific Northwest) is an especially piercing reminder of the sudden nausea everyone felt that day. You feel it again in the guitar, in an unfamiliar dissonance in the familiar Corin-Carrie counterpoint. Even with a new-found patriotism, the classic antiauthoritarianism of punk rock can still be felt with the lines: "And the president hides/While working men rush in/To give their lives." Where Dan Rather and all the news networks have forgotten about the administration's immediate cowardice in reaction to the attacks, punk rock has not. Compared with the war mongering of the President, unconstitutional detention of "suspects" and the vote mongering, in-step marching by the Democrats, Sleater-Kinney's brand of patriotism seems more earnest. Their lyric, "Where is the questioning, where is the protest song/Since when is skepticism un-American?" in "Combat Rock" makes it OK to have gut-level patriotism—the kind one feels reluctant to have in the face of what patriotism has of late become. In an act of sheer bravado, their nationwide tour will start on September 11th.

With the sudden expansion of their political scope, Sleater Kinney doesn't leave out the personal. While the first two albums were unmediated screams of pain, these songs are cold, calculated revenge. These are deep wounds that have been festering, the ones that no longer occupy your every thought, but are still palpably there. With lines like "Nobody lingers like your hands on my heart /Nobody figures like you've figured me out" in "Oh," this is up close and personal.

My favorite song on the album, though, has to be "Light Rail Coyote." The title itself says everything. It's about urban wildlife. It's about the one that doesn't fit in, but still manages to scrape together an existence. Yet there is this desperation in it, especially in the lines, "Find me on the eve of suicide /Tell me the city is no place to hide." This is your existence too, and mine.

I can't say how this album will do as an introduction to Sleater Kinney—I lost that innocence when I fell in love with the band a long time ago. Still, don't miss this one.