There is a reason why the news about Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss resurrecting Sleater-Kinney for a new album and tour in 2015 sent so many music fans to run up and sing from the digital mountaintops this past week. Whether it was by design or not, the scoop came the week the trio’s anticipated box set of their remastered discography was due out via Sub Pop (which came complete with a cryptic white label 7-inch of their latest song “Bury Our Friends” with the January 20, 2015 release date of the group’s sixth LP, No Cities to Love, etched on the jacket), making the news of their impending return all the more anticipatory.
In light of all this good fortune smiling down upon the Sleater-Kinney universe, Glide has spent the entire week listening to all seven of their available albums in all of their remixed glory in hopes of providing you with the most definitive ranking of their oeuvre from most to least favorite (best to worst does not apply with S-K because, quite frankly, all of their LPs are great in their own distinct ways). Its really cool to go back and hear these S-K albums in 2014 with a new ear of levity thanks to Brownstein’s amazing second act as a whip smart comedienne, our generation’s Gilda Radner really, and look forward to what’s to come in this new era of this most important American rock group.
1. DIG ME OUT (Kill Rock Stars, 1997)
By recruiting Quasi drummer Janet Weiss, Tucker and Brownstein now boasted the multi-tentacled muscle they needed to ratchet up their abilities to really show the world they were beyond anything anyone ever expected from the Pacific-Northwest riot grrl movement. Copping the cover art to The Kink Kontroversy wasn’t just done for show: these girls infused the kind of mercurial guitar pop hooks the Davies boys did so well in their Pye days into the feral punk fury of songs like “Turn It On” and “One More Hour”, making Dig Me Out impossible to top nearly two decades later.
“One More Hour”: Live at Tower Records NYC 1998
“Turn It On”: Live at CBGB 1997
2. THE WOODS (Sub Pop, 2005)
The stories of the trio holed up at Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios in up-Upstate, NY (the town of Cassadaga to be exact near SUNY Fredonia) during the late fall months of 2004 punctuated their epic seventh LP and Sub Pop debut. But while the harsh conditions both inside and out of the acclaimed producer’s remote digs might have served as a catalyst for their untimely hiatus, but the tension also inspired the trio to complete bring their A game, all of which was captured live in the recording space. The Woods boasts both Sleater-Kinney’s poppiest cut to date in lead single “Jumpers” (the video of which is even better after four seasons of Carrie on Portlandia) and their most experimental composition yet in “Let’s Call It Love”–an 11-minute noise jam that could have been what it sounded like had Sonic Youth and Neil Young + Crazy Horse did a big collaborative finale when they toured together in 1991.
“Let’s Call It Love”: Coachella 2006
3. CALL THE DOCTOR (Chainsaw Records, 1996)
“I’m the queen of rock and roll!” roared Corin on the chorus of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”, a song so good it tends to overshadow the 11 other songs it accompanies on Sleater’s sophomore classic. Though they would prove their crown-worthiness with Dig Me Out the following year, Call the Doctor–recorded in four days with the band’s go-to producer John Goodmanson–remains a firm statement that this group were out for a kind of domination that completely transcended their place as the heir apparents to Bikini Kill’s throne, evidenced in the brilliant C86-isms of caustically sweet closing number “Heart Attack”.
“I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”
4. THE HOT ROCK (Kill Rock Stars, 1999)
Released in 1999, The Hot Rock was a bit of a polarizing album for S-K fans it seems, especially those who were expecting a sequel to Dig Me Out. Taking its name from the classic 1972 Robert Redford heist film, Corin, Carrie and Janet opted to expand their sound rather than expound upon prior glories here, offering a more angular, abstract and, at times, mellower mood, which at the time Brownstein cited was recorded under the heavy influence of the Go-Betweens, who the trio would wind up working with in 2000 on the celebrated Australian band’s seventh LP, The Friends of Rachel Worth. The band worked on The Hot Rock with producer Roger Moutenot due to his outstanding results with Yo La Tengo on their 1997 indie masterpiece I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. It was a move that was telltale of the ladies’ directional course as artists and musicians, making it wholly apparent they were onto much bigger things than three-cord punk.
“Burn Don’t Freeze”
5. ALL HANDS ON THE BAD ONE (Kill Rock Stars, 2000)
Just as Sleater-Kinney were chastised by the feminist punk police for toning down their sound with The Hot Rock, its 2000 follow-up was, too, snubbed by certain portions of their fanbase who were under the impression the girls had gone commercial given the inescapable catchiness of the melodies imbued on such tracks as “Ballad of a Ladyman” and “You’re No Rock-n-Roll Fun”. However, the real kick is in that while All Hands on the Bad One did, in fact, juice up the pop factor a bit (closing number would be a great song for Miley Cyrus to cover), lyrically the album is their most visceral yet as they take aim at clueless adults, American expatriates, rock journalism hacks and the 1999 Woodstock Festival with a vengeance.
“Ballad of a Ladyman”
ONE BEAT (Kill Rock Stars, 2002)
There might not be a situation more harrowing than giving birth to a premature infant and the uncertainty of that baby’s extended stay in the hospital NICU. This was Corin’s first experience as a new mother, which, when coupled with the group’s scathing account of the governmental mismanagement of 9/11 informs a duality in tone perfectly exemplified on their sixth full-length, highlighted by such blistering cuts as “Combat Rock” and “Hollywood Ending”. Carrie has considered One Beat to be the middle ground between Dig Me Out and The Hot Rock. Who are we to argue?
SLEATER-KINNEY (Chainsaw, 1995)
Basing the greatness of what was to come for Sleater-Kinney by their raw eponymous debut is like judging how high a kangaroo can jump when it is still a hairless pink baby Joey. However, explosive cuts like “Be Yr Mama” and “Sold Out” are testaments to the promise fulfilled by this union of former members of such influential riot grrl acts as Heavens to Betsy and queercore pioneers Excuse 17.
“Be Yr Mama”: Live at 924 Gilman Punk Prom
“Sold Out”: Live at No Life Records, 1996
Special thanks to Ron Hart in his lead assistance with this list
Why is there blood dripping from my ears after I listened to these clips?
Kate Bush wrote a song, years ago, called “Experiment IV”. It was about scientists working for the military trying to produce a sound that “could kill from a distance”. I think that Sleater-Kinney may have been the inspiration for that song.