“No Cities To Love”
(Image Source: Sub Pop)
“You come around sounding 1972, you did nothing new, 1972” Shouts Guitarist/secondary vocalist Carrie Brownstein on “Entertain,” one of the highlights of Sleater-Kinney’s former swansong, The Woods.
Sleater-Kinney are a band that need no introduction, a band that have changed many lives with their music, and certainly changed mine. (They have Three albums on various Rolling Stone “best ever” lists.) After cranking out seven records, they decided to pull the plug in 2006. They quietly reunited earlier in the year, recorded an album in secrecy, and created a stir, when the fruits of their labour began to trickle out.
So when I fired up the old harddrive to get a sneak peak of the record, and heard what was playing through my headphones, I was…. underwhelmed. In a huge way.
Things get off to a rocky start with “Price Tag,” which opens like Elastica’s “Generator” and becomes Corin Tucker’s “Groundhog Day,” a truly sleepy opener in it’s own right, featuring an equally unappealing chorus.
The situation improves Immensely with the following two tracks: “Fangless” is classic Sleater-Kinney, with an almost dance-y bridge. The previously released single, “Surface Envy” also borrows heavily from Elastica, but this time the result is a much better song, on all fronts. Corin’s voice has aged beautifully, and her new found lower register is on full display here. Carrie Brownstein’s guitar playing on the track is especially inspired as well. She does much more string bending, than is the norm of her style, but it works.
Things take a turn for the worse with the genuinely boring title track, which boasts a staid, dad-rock melody, and some of the weakest lyrics in the Sleater-Kinney canon.
(The line about the weather isn’t even worth printing in full, and made me yell “slap me!” after hearing it. I would’ve much preferred that to the song.)
“A New Wave” is another great song, opening with a Dinosaur Jr.-esque guitar melody, with loads of funky note bending, that could become a regular aspect of Brownstein’s playing. She even displays a rare sense of humor within the song, with her hyper-energized, semi-deranged vocal performance. But the outro offers possibly the biggest surprise of the entire record: actual bass guitar. In case you weren’t aware, Sleater-Kinney are a trio with two guitarists. They rarely used bass, if ever, until now. If I wasn’t agnostic, I’d say it’s a Christmas miracle.
“No Anthems” is pounding Noise-Rock at it’s dark finest, with an emotive vocal from Corin, and a typically inspired drum performance from Janet. It’s good to hear her pounding the skins again; her talents are somewhat underused in Quasi.
However, “Gimme Love” is entirely skippable, with it’s drab start-stop melody that goes nowhere for 2 minutes and seventeen seconds. At least it’s short.
With a hit to the “>>” button, you are treated to “Bury Our Friends,” the pounding comeback song released for free on the band’s website back in October. I was originally not a fan of the track, but in the context of the record, I am enjoying it much more. (for better or worse, it is one of the stronger tracks here.)
Afterwards, the album takes a quieter tone with the penultimate track, “Hey Darling.” It’s a side of the band that isn’t normally explored, but on the rare occasions that they do (Past examples: The Size of Our Love, Leave You Behind, The Swimmer), it’s always beautiful.
Finally, The album wraps with one of their famous guitar closers, “Fade.” It sounds like the end, in the way that “Night Light” did on The Woods. However, on my third listen, I’m still unsure about the time signature change in the bridge. Had Sleater-Kinney been more in tune with the math-rock scene, this would make sense. But they aren't and it doesn't fit in the context of the song. It’s little things like these that end up dragging the record down. Moments that sound like other bands, in a less inspired way.
In the end, No Cities To Love ends up being a pretty good record, but not a great one. One that I expect will remain in my CD player for the next few months, but will wind up collecting dust on my rack not long after that. Pretty music, “But where’s the ‘Fuck You?’ where’s the black and blue?”
7/10 or Three and a half stars
*Side notes: 1) As of this writing, this is the first review of No Cities To Love on the internet. suck it, pitchfork. 2) About the leak;
I highly doubt it was an accident. More like a weird publicity stunt by Sub Pop.