The bar for music in 2015 is set quite high after the release of No Cities to Love. It is a triumph of epic proportions. And since the album appeared on NPR’s First Listen a week ago, I have not stopped listening to it.
No Cities to Love is Sleater-Kinney’s first album since 2005’s The Woods. In the past 10 years, Janet Weiss, Corin Tucker, and Carrie Brownstein have each gone on to take part in a variety of musical and non-musical projects.
On the musical front, Brownstein and Weiss teamed up to form WILD FLAG in 2010. Brownstein and Weiss (with Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole) released an album and disbanded 3 years later. Weiss also played with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Bright Eyes, and is a member of Quasi. Tucker formed The Corin Tucker Band and released several well-regarded albums under that moniker. Non-musically speaking, Brownstein spent some time writing for NPR Music and Slate and currently stars in sketch comedy show Portlandia.
With most bands from the past 20 years, there is always that impending nostalgic hope of a reunion. Fans were rewarded for their patience when Sleater-Kinney announced their new album and tour on the heals of an exhaustive 7-LP limited edition vinyl box set called Start Together.
And fans are rewarded once again on release day with one of the strongest Sleater-Kinney albums to date.
Overall, No Cities to Love is a solidly constructed powerhouse with heavy post-punk and riot-worthy songs, inhabiting the entire spectrum of modern worries, recent concerns, and reoccurring entanglements.
The album begins with “Price Tag,” an uproarious opener. The lyrics take a stab at how difficult life can be when supporting one’s family and one’s self in the modern age: “We love the bargains/ we love the prices so low/ with the good jobs gone/ it’s gonna be rough.”
The title track, “No Cities to Love,” is especially noteworthy. It is one of those songs where you can hear how a band made up of three separate entities can morph into a perfect trio. Many bands try to blend and harmonize their voices together so one voice is indistinguishable from the next. With Sleater-Kinney, this is not the case. The band recognizes that each member has a different vocal signature. It is not about integrating into one another; it is about being who you are. Their vocal tempos may be chaotic but it works.
“A New Wave” is a dance song where Janet’s drum beats serve as the anchor. They express how their sound cannot be held by an “outline,” as they invent their “own kind of obscurity.” This theme is carried over to “No Anthems.” Their voice and message cannot be shut down.
“Bury Our Friends” was the first song released from the album and is poised to be a classic S-K track. The lyrics emit thoughts of selectively remembering your past and honoring some of your influences: “Why start over/ Forget everything/ Exhume our idols/ and bury our friends.”
“Hey Darling” was my favorite track on the album. With a crunchy guitar melody, this song is an anthem. The band sings, “It seems to me the only thing that comes from fame is mediocrity.” When Corin sings “Keep it from me/ just out of touch,” it is almost like she is talking straight to the one who withholds. Success doesn’t always lead to fulfillment. Most notably this mentality is conveyed in the lyric “Sometimes the heat of the crowd feels a little too close/ Sometimes the shout of the room makes me feel so alone.” Sleater-Kinney have a characteristically fervent fan base so this a very brave feeling to present.
In a recent Reddit AMA, one participant asked the band why they reunited. They responded with “It felt like we still had a story to tell. We felt compelled to explore how to tell that story.” By exploring themes of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and powerful attitude with intricate melodies, Sleater-Kinney proves they can withstand the test of time. It is obvious that with No Cities to Love the band still has a lot to say and they know how to say it. And people are still listening.
Boy, I am glad this band is back.