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Sleater-Kinney

+ {Heavens To Betsy} + {Cadallaca} + {The Corin Tucker Band} + {Wild Flag} + {The Spells} + {The Tentacles}

Riot-grrrl combos, including the initially more well-known BABES IN TOYLAND, L7, BIKINI KILL and British act HUGGY BEAR, were all the rage having been championed by male rock journalists, Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus. Raised in Olympia, Washington State on a musical diet of Scottish indie bands such as The PASTELS and The VASELINES, plus local lo-fi brigade BEAT HAPPENING, future SLEATER-KINNEY alumni Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker hung out with up and coming grunge acts, most notably, NIRVANA and MUDHONEY! From virtually nowhere, the hard-grafting feminists grew into becoming possibly the greatest of their genre, fusing melodic punk into sonic pop. Pity then they had to disband in the mid-00s, just when things looked commercially enterprising by way of a Top 100 album chart break-through, `The Woods’. As if time stood still for almost a decade, a much-needed reunion saw their comeback set, `No Cities To Love’, finally inject a bit of life into the Top 30.
Prior to forming in 1994, singer/guitarist Tucker had cut her teeth (alongside drummer Tracy Sawyer) in early 90s riot-grrrl duo HEAVENS TO BETSY. Fellow students at Olympia’s Evergreen State College although hailing from Eugene, Oregon, the “grrrls” went from K Records (for a one-off 45, `My Secret’) to a deal with the seminal indie imprint at Kill Rock Stars. Emerging somewhat later than expected, their one-and-only LP CALCULATED (1994) {*7} focused of fierce and feisty pissed-off-punk, transmitted through tasty tsunami tracks `Nothing Can Stop Me’, `Waitress Hell’ and longest piece at over 6-minutes, `Complicated’.
Corin and Carrie met at a feminist convention and became lovers for a while; the latter bailing out from her outfit, EXCUSE 17 (leaving album `Such Friends Are Dangerous’) to form SLEATER-KINNEY – named after a stretch of interstate highway in nearby Lacey. The twin-guitar playing punk singers eventually recruited drummer Misty Farrell, although her berth was taken by Scots-born Australian national Lora MacFarlane on the back of a Chainsaw Records single, `You Ain’t It!’.
Becoming darlings of the underground riot-grrrl movement almost overnight, the trio’s SLEATER-KINNEY (1995) {*6} debut album, also crashed out on Donna Dresch’s radical Chainsaw imprint. Likened to a meeting between X-RAY SPEX, BABES IN TOYLAND and SONIC YOUTH, there were the obvious teething problems among the 10 cuts, but in the main, `Don’t Think You Wanna’, `The Day I Went Away’, `A Real Man’ and `Be Yr Mama’ pointed towards a promising future.
Not long afterwards due to Lora’s commitments with several other outfits in her homeland of Perth, Australia, Toni Gogin was roped in to record sophomore set, CALL THE DOCTOR (1996) {*7}. Allowing Carrie the share of the spoils for at least four of the cuts, including `I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone’ and `Stay Where You Are’, the prescription of undiluted punk pills had worked their way into the system. Cutting short at the half-hour mark, the visceral mood of `My Stuff’, `Anonymous’ and the title track were effective and dynamic without the tassels and trimmings.
Shunning major-label advances like true punks and replacing Toni with Janet Weiss (of QUASI), SLEATER-KINNEY delivered their finest half-hour-plus up to now, DIG ME OUT (1997) {*8}. The trio’s first for Kill Rock Stars (Matador came knocking six months later in Britain), they’d lost none of their urgency or passion, developing and maturing as witnessed on `Things You Say’, `Jenny’ and `Turn It On’. The following September, S-K toured Britain heralding a long-awaited single release of `Little Babies’ (following on from `One More Hour’), while of course taking time out to visit their long-time musical chums north of Hadrian’s Wall.
The irrepressible Tucker (as “Kissy”) subsequently teamed up with The CRABS’ Sarah Dougher (as “Dusty”) and The Lookers’ Junior STS to form femme-punk supergroup CADALLACA, releasing their roughshod, bareback and bass-less set, INTRODUCING (1998) {*6} for K Records. Cobbled together from Farfisa organs, rudimentary drums and skeletal guitar, the record hovered on the verge of folksy collapse (check out `Your One Wish’ and `Firetrap’), its approach at odds with the self-consciously experimental SLEATER-KINNEY effort, THE HOT ROCK (1999) {*7}. Discovering they had chart potential after squeezing into the Top 200 at No.181, not since the likes of pop-punk/new wave act The GO-GO’S had America simmered under a wake of anticipation. Off-kilter and unpredictable, starting points surely eschewed from `Start Together’, `Get Up’, `Living In Exile’ and `God Is A Number’.
This attempt at squaring personal exploration with their trademark riot-grrrl blowout didn’t always come off, though it served as a catalyst for the ebullient ALL HANDS ON THE BAD ONE (2000) {*8}. Confident to stretch her vocal chords beyond mere monotone punk, a polished and playful Corin pushed out the envelope on seminal stuff such as `Youth Decay’ (1977 regurgitated), the pogo-friendly `You’re No Rock’n’Roll Fun’, the cathartic `Was It A Lie?’ and the quirky `The Professional’.
Having recharged their creative drive, the girls returned to their trademark formula with a newfound professionalism and melodic undertow. ONE BEAT (2002) {*8}, meanwhile, expanded both their musical horizons and lyrical scope, influenced by a post 9/11 landscape and Tucker’s entry into motherhood; examples: `Far Away’ and `Combat Rock’; semi-classics both. Bubbling under the Top 100, the John Goodmanson-produced ace-in-the-pack tapped in to the band’s political idiosyncrasies, more or less in evidence on the title track, plus `Oh!’ (impersonating LAUPER or LOVICH), `The Remainder’, `Light Rail Coyote’ and `Sympathy’.
Following on from a support slot in 2003 to PEARL JAM, and as sure as eggs is eggs, the mighty Sub Pop came calling. Roping in former MERCURY REV man Dave Fridmann to produce and spruce-up 2005’s THE WOODS {*8} was something of a masterstroke – whether the band disagreed or not – as Corin’s shout-y GEDDY LEE-meets-DAVID SURKAMP vocals tied in well with the trio’s chirpy heavy-metal beats. `What’s Yours Is Mine’ was almost HENDRIX at Woodstock in places, tempered only by quirky stuff such as `The Fox’, `Wilderness’ and `Rollercoaster’. Dragging on for a prog-length 11 minutes, `Let’s Call It Love’ was untypical SLEATER-KINNEY, its out-of-tune self-indulgence and sheer intensity apparently a round-by-round duel between boxing and sex. Was this the straw that broke the camel’s back or the shot that burst the ‘Zeppelin, so to speak? Who knows.
Anyhoo, it was indeed time for the now dysfunctional trio to take a hiatus – a very long one. In the meantime, while Weiss found her niche backing STEPHEN MALKMUS in The Jicks, among other session things, the main pair finally found their feet again in respective outfits The CORIN TUCKER BAND and WILD FLAG. The former – with help from Golden Bears’ Seth Lorinczi and Julianna Bright, plus Sara Lund from The Hungry Ghost – was first off the mark with her 1,000 YEARS (2010) {*6}. A benefit gig to regain costs to care for her family, CT’s trademark exuberance and fire was still apparent on the likes of `Riley’, `Thrift Store Coats’ (very PATTI SMITH) and the title track. Bouncing back in 2012, Kill Rock Stars were also behind the quartet’s follow-up “KILL MY BLUES” {*7}; Mike Clark (of STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS) superseded Julianna. From garage-esque blues ballads to indie-rock, tracks such as `Groundhog Day’, `Summer Jams’ and `No Bad News Tonight’ were not that removed from SLEATER-KINNEY.
Meanwhile, the pseudo supergroup of WILD FLAG careered out of the stalls for their eponymous WILD FLAG (2011) {*7}. Two-thirds S-K (Carrie and Janet) and presenting Mary Timony (from HELIUM) and Rebecca Cole (from The MINDERS), much was expected of such an indie enterprise. Just running short of a Top 50 place, the brash and cathartic quartet gelled well together, the chemistry providing fans of grrrl-power-chords with retro-feel cuts `Romance’, `Boom’ and `Electric Band’. Showing she’d more than one feather to her boa, comedic Carrie flowed alongside Trenchmouth drummer Fred Armisen on a IFC-TV sketch show, Portlandia.
Difficult as it might have been for these wonderful women in rawk, Corin, Carrie and Janet bowed to pressure and heralded a re-formed SLEATER-KINNEY. Thankfully reuniting with producer Goodmanson instead of opting for anybody experimental and obtuse, NO CITIES TO LOVE {*8} pulled no punches when it gate-crashed the charts in January 2015. Opening with the shoplifter’s nightmare, `Price Tag’ (a worthy gem to procure), Corin and Co called to arms a breathless selection of cathartic, syncopated indie-rock; among the highlights: `No Anthems’, `Bury Our Friends’, `Fade’ and the title track. Encore.
© MC Strong 1999-2003/GA&ID // rev-up MCS Jan2015

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