Monday, July 4, 2011
Fall Down on the World: The Music of Sleater-Kinney, Pt. 7--Stop When I Tell You
Those who wondered how Sleater-Kinney would handle the transition from Kill Rock Stars to Sub Pop Records had to feel like they wasted their time. A month or so after the release of their seventh record, S-K announced they would be going on "indefinite hiatus." The curtains on the cover was one early hint; the fact that this album almost didn't get made due to increasingly fractious band relations was another.
The news devastated the band's devoted fanbase; this acolyte in particular was fond of saying, for months afterward, "Music just got 63% more suck." An annoying off-shoot of this grieving, however, was the alleged dearth of worthy female bands once Portland's pride shuffled off to side projects. Like Erase Errata, Electralane, and Mika Miko didn't exist!
So far as parting shots go, The Woods is a quality one, but I'd be a flat-out fibber to say they couldn't have departed on an even higher note. There are only ten songs, and a couple of them get lost in a locked room. The decision to jack up the levels and blow out the jellies (hi, Flaming Lips producer David Fridmann!) means every song is coated thick as the sand that is quick with distortion. Madlib said "You must be out ya head if your system ain't up to the red," but for many listeners the chronic static drove them batty by "ruining" fundamentally good songs.
"The Fox"--A Timonian tale of duck/fox seduction that draws vexed circles around the mismatched combatants. A Burtonian headbanger. A Zeppelin-esque moon shot. A Robitussin-abetted night swim.
You know that delicate guitar interplay you love about Sleater-Kinney? Yeah. You shouldn't grow so attached to things. 'Cause it's gone.
"Wilderness"--Carrie and Corin trade off in this fair-minded ode to the formers parents and their doomed union. Like "Light Rail Coyote," the music shimmers sparsely with the skies and streets of the PNW, but the words tell a much more solemn story. Carrie bravely tells the tale from dual POVs, and wisely avoids the pitfalls of ornate sentimentality no matter the person. Nothing is too sweet, nor is it too bitter.
"What's Mine is Yours"--It's like "You Make My Dreams Come True" for people who appreciate how good that song is in the first place.
This one's for the freaks, who pronounce the "b" in "subtle" just 'cause they know that's not how you say it, but they hate that word anyway. "You can bleed, as long as they don't see it." Sleater-Kinney, from start to finish, never hesitated to give voice to those society shunned.
The guitars detect ghost whistles...the vocals grasp, gasp and scorch...the drums make paste of bones strong and brittle. Carrie's minute-long goddess move may have put some fans off momentarily, but as a fan of Sonic Youth, it warmed the cookies of my heart.
"Jumpers"--On the short list of "most-beloved" songs in their history. Inspired by a New Yorker article detailing the unfortunate status of San Francisco's storied Golden Gate Bridge as a Mecca for the suicide-minded, Sleater-Kinney wrote a song that is, naturally, riveting. Carrie and Corin's verse-work is somber and even soothing if you're not paying too close attention. The jam-punting that follows gives just a few seconds prep-time before Corin lets the desperation fly.
Every line is memorable, but I've always been fond of "The Golden spine of engineering/Whose back is heavy with my weight." A depression so deep, a misery so massive, an emptiness that can inexplicably be measured. Two sublime achievements of mankind (that would never know to identify themselves as such) come together for the purpose of creating a ridiculous arc in the sky plan. The best of us, the worst of us.
"Modern Girl"--A lachrymose Carrie number that waits way too long to unlock Janet from the bathroom, "Modern Girl" is like a soggy corn-chip that challenges one's ability to sing along whilst maintaining a smirk fit to fell bearded Billyburg boys right where they slouch.
It features harmonica. Yes. We get it, Carrie. Sarcasm. Your whole life is not a picture of a sunny day. No one loves you, thus you ain't really so happy. And this super-donut of which you speak defies even the greatest fantasies of Homer J. Simpson.
"Entertain"--Ah, here we go. Blunt Carrie. Brazen Carrie. Back in 2005 there was this slew of Gang of Four knock-offs that people with no sense of history enjoyed listening to. Jet, Franz Ferdinand, and where are they now? Hey, it was a righteous fight at the time. If patently unfair. As it is, "Entertain" goes a minute too long--stop it, stop it, they're already dead!--and they don't exude the sneering joy that I prefer to see in fraud-exposers.
"Rollercoaster"--The riffage is fittingly looping. What's weird is the metaphor mixture: love as rollercoaster ride with trembling start, euphoric ride, jarring stop (and gotta love how the song itself "returns" for another ride, so to speak); love as food ("We had a good time at the beginning/It tasted just like all the things I was missing"). Now, the only common ground with rollercoasters and food is they can both make you puke. And, you can find plenty of each at Dorney Park. But, Dorney Park has Snoopy. Snoopy, he would tell Corin to just hush up and enjoy the pizza 'cause there's more comin', I mean it is Pizza Saturday after all.
The food metaphor is evoked much more often, as well. Might have behooved 'em to name the song something like "Bouillabaisse Babies."
"Steep Air"--A very uncharacteristic, plundering air keeps this song from distinguishing itself.
"Let's Call It Love"--YEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSS. This is more like it, so can we have more like it? Eleven minutes long, this one. Eleven sultry, sweaty, sexy, muggy, torrid, are you ready yes I'm ready, to falllllllllll in love, is that what this is, yeah let's call it that minutes. Metaphor this. Sex music for ant people, ant music for sex people. Don't imagine mountains where none exist. Multiple orgasms will sharpen the vision. Y'all know "The Rule of One," right? Which is? It ain't enough.
Creamy raunch and buttery roll. Don't get precious about that which we would not be without.
"Hit the floor, honey/Let's battle it out." Corin supplants Robert with every shamelessly lascivious line.
"Show me your darkest side." Upon first listen, Patrick and I really wanted to believe this line was "Snoopy/The dog is sick." When I saw them do this song live, I looked over at Corin from my cozy spot in front of Carrie's mic and could easily imagine she was actually saying "Snoopy/The dog is sick." And it cheered me.
Letting the music breathe as they do here was an unusual move, like giddy parents introducing a new sibling. Listeners accustomed to fighting for air along with the songs either cooed over the clean pink slate, or ground their teeth to the colicky red cries. Again, as a Sonic Youth fan, I was tickled to hear Sleater-Kinney stretch out. (SY weren't too displeased, either; I spoke with someone who stood next to Lee Ranaldo at SK's show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York and during "Let's Call It Love," Ranaldo could be seen shaking his head in amazement.)
"Night Light"--The sentinence of said light can be heard here in Carrie Brownstein's string witchery. Sturdy, smart, and not enough. Never enough. Shit.
A night light is there for peace of mind. But bulbs burn out, and require a replacement. A night light is generally outgrown by the one who came to rely on it. Come on, sleep in the dark. Lights out. Night.