Sleater-Kinney – “No Cities to Love”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Price Tag” “No Cities to Love” “Bury Our Friends”

Confession: This isn’t my first review of 2015. That belongs to Meghan Trainor’s “Title.” But do you know how cliche the metaphor is to start the year with a review of a debut? No, the first review of the year needs to be something more momentous – a comeback (and one that fits in well with my recent post on feminism in music, something Trainor does *not* fall under). So here, one of the biggest comebacks a blog like this could ask for – the first Sleater-Kinney album in 10 years.

Sleater-Kinney never really gave us a reason for their hiatus in 2006. It just seemed like they suddenly appeared, and suddenly disappeared. So, nine years after, it seems just as odd that they’d come back, especially given their successes – Janet Weiss has since played with the Shins, Wild Flag, Stephen Malkmus, and the densely uncrackable trio Drumgasm; Corin Tucker has found solo success; and Carrie Brownstein has found mainstream success as one-half of the largely improvised IFC show Portlandia (as well as Wild Flag). But 2015 needs Sleater-Kinney more than Sleater-Kinney needs 2015. We’ve caught up to their third-wave feminism; their leftist politics may have been “radical” for music in the 90’s (sad) but sound more anthemic today. There’s a revolution looming, and we’ve left Sleater-Kinney’s throne open for their welcome return.

Nearly needless to say, it’s an incredibly successful return. While Sleater-Kinney have never been a challenging band, their varying albums do rely on the listener to interpret the music, rather than the band. And for a band that’s woven through indie rock, riot grrrl and classic rock, “No Cities to Love” feels like a retrospective, that lets the listener reflect on which Sleater-Kinney exactly they’re listening to. Although “No Cities to Love” often sways sonically towards an indie S-K, it packs punk punches, and it’s brimming with energizing, political lyrics that are seemingly banned from indie otherwise. S-K’s political and social lyrics have never sounded fiercer, stronger, and Tucker’s vocals have a catchy scowl to them that entice the listener into their fury.

The album starts, by no coincidence, with “Price Tag.” The band sound like they’re restraining energy, not wanting to exhaust the listener from the get-go; but the lyrics about overspending on both political and personal levels rival the most ferocious and specific lyrics Against Me! or Sonic Youth could dream of. “A New Wave” matches the album’s catchiest, bounciest music with equally anthemic lyrics. “Surface Envy”‘s lyrics about making and breaking rules might sound a little tired, but S-K always have a way of putting out their own spin. And late-album highlight “Bury Your Friends” isn’t as political, but looks at the apathy of burying and reviving friends and idols (kind of like early songs by, well, Sonic Youth).

Musically, “No Cities to Love” leaps around. The title track is one of a few songs that’s outright catchy, with the band exploring its indie side. But “Surface Envy,” “No Anthems,” and “Fade” are all aided by a heavier, denser sound. Brownstein’s guitar is heavy throughout, reinforcing her importance and virtuosity in the guitar world. “Hey Darling” sounds like an indie track but has an unexpected heavy guitar, and “Surface Envy” has a dissonant chord running through its verses. “Bury Our Friends” even takes on a more mechanic tone at times, sounding more rehearsed and intentionally repeating than other tracks.

The Sleater-Kinney we get in 2015 is a mix of previous Sleater-Kinney’s, and it’s necessary blending. Indie and punk have come a long way in 10 years, and can go hand-in-hand now (whereas separated by sharp divides in 2005, unless you were Karen O or a member of Sleater-Kinney). “No Cities to Love” is rarely uneven, often totally complete, and serious in its beliefs. Comeback albums are tricky, but I don’t think there was much doubt that Sleater-Kinney could succeed in a world even more in need of political anthems. Leftist, catchy, angry and energetic, “No Cities to Love” is exactly what you want from a Sleater-Kinney album, just in the year 2015. Setting the bar high early, we’re 1-0 in great albums so far.

If you like this, try: Aside from rechecking your teen angst, rehanging posters you had in your bedroom in 1998, and remembering why you picked up a guitar in the first place, check out Potty Mouth’s 2013 debut, “Hell Bent.” Although more outwardly punk, Potty Mouth owe a lot to S-K’s feminist indie-punk sound.

-By Andrew McNally

(Okay. 1-1. Meghan Trainor review to be posted later.)

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Perfect Pussy – “Say Yes to Love”

(Photo Credit: Pitchfork)

Grade: A

Key Tracks: “Driver” “Interference Fits”

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before,” Meredith Graves coyly sings on “Advance Upon the Real.” But there’s no stopping Perfect Pussy – there isn’t anything quite like this. In fact, it’s one of the only decipherable lines on the album. Perfect Pussy’s raw, cheap and ferocious punk energy is breathing life into music. The noise-punk band came together after Graves was asked to form a fake band to play in a scene of the 2013 film “Adult World,” and they ended up recording. They released their first EP, “I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling,” rather unceremoniously. But it was quickly picked up by major markets and by the time this debut LP came out (which wasn’t long), it was already hotly anticipated.

The first EP was four songs and roughly 13 minutes long. “Say Yes to Love” is double that – eight songs and 23 minutes. The whole album is characterized by relentless and chaotic energy and teasing intros and fade-outs. The volume is pushed to the max throughout, surrounded by reverb, power chords and lo-fi production. The chords themselves are deceivingly pop-punk, but Perfect Pussy are far too riotous to be considered it. The only song that isn’t all-out is the keyboard-prevalent closer, the ominously named “VII” (ominous because the EP’s song titles were in Roman numerals, suggesting parts V and VI exist). Even then, it’s a booming closer. The band’s intensity is thanks in part to the muffled production. It’s like the medium between Melt-Banana and Potty Mouth, recording with the production quality of Teen Suicide.

Fade-outs, reverb and tempting intros are a large part of this album. The opening song, “Driver,” waits a very teasing eleven seconds before the opening chords. “Big Stars” and “Interference Fits” have long periods of reverb at the end of the song, as if providing a quick break for the listener. And “Advance Upon the Real” has a little over three minutes of tape delay, at the end, in which some notes and chords in the background are just barely audible.

The vocals are improved on this album. On “Feeling,” Graves’ voice was so buried under the music that it was barely audible. They’re at least audible here, although the lyrics are almost entirely unintelligible. They might be taking a Lightning Bolt approach, burying the lyrics under fuzzy vocals to add a shroud of mystery. One of the album’s only other truly unmistakable lines is in “Interference Fits” – “Since when do we say yes to love?” – just intelligible enough to let the listener know what a red herring the album’s title really is. What follows, is Graves dubbed twice over herself, singing three different things at once.

Perfect Pussy have been one of the biggest bands to watch for 2014 and, no, they’re probably not going to become a household name, but they’re making waves in the music world. “Say Yes to Love,” even in its lighter moments, is intense. 23 straight minutes of vicious energy, fronted by Graves’ shout-singing (and Garrett Koloski’s machine-like drumming). Perfect Pussy have emerged from an otherwise empty Syracuse scene, and they’re here to stay.

If you like this, try: Potty Mouth’s “Hell Bent.” It’s not half as intense, but it matches PP’s pop-punk chords and lo-fi production.

-By Andrew McNally

Potty Mouth – “Hell Bent”

(Photo Credit: Spin)

Grade: B

Key tracks: “Rusted Shut,” “The Spins”

Freshly born at a woman’s college just a short drive from me, western Massachusetts’ Potty Mouth’s full-length debut falls under the increasingly growing umbrella term of “pop-punk.” A decade ago, pop-punk was a very specific genre of music, but nowadays, it’s just anything that fits the qualifications. And technically, Potty Mouth do. Their songs are pop songs, tainted by punk rhythm and intensity. But they aren’t a big-chorus, small town hating band. Their songs have an added reverb tinge to them, uncharacteristic of pop-punk. And the band seems to have a personal attitude, not to be bothered by genre lines.

Potty Mouth have such a fuzzy and distorted sound that they almost start to resemble simple shoegaze bands like Yuck, but they still have definitive song structures. This toying with the basics of genres only helps to show the band’s open attitude and general distrust of being labeled under anything. This non-abiding of genres makes the catchiness of the album seem perversely warped, almost ironic. But it isn’t – the songs are catchy, at times fully embracing the pop element of pop-punk. Equal parts fuzzy and catchy, Potty Mouth properly blend the best of two genres to make that rich, 90’s-revivalist sound.

This isn’t a political album, but the band does take an approach towards equality in their music. And rightfully so, because they are often labeled as a “female band” and not as a “band”. This approach is, I guess, the “punk” element of the “pop-punk,” although that’s still defined more by the energy of the music. Because things aren’t equal, especially in the music world, they’re often labeled as a feminist band. But musings of equality creep into the album, pushing the album above most lyrically-boring pop-punk bands.

But what the album really is, is a decent set of fuzzy, catchy, punk tunes that have trouble separating themselves from each other but are instantly catchy and memorable. Potty Mouth has the energy of a punk band, the catchy rhythms of a pop group, and the reverb of a conventional-leaning noise-rock band. The album isn’t perfect, but it’s a winning combination.

If you like this, try: Yuck’s 2011 self-titled album. It isn’t that great of an album, but the distortion on “Hell Bent” reminded me greatly of it.

-By Andrew McNally