Coming out of Olympia's famed early-1990s riot grrrl movement, Sleater-Kinney helped the underground scene gain worldwide acclaim alongside groups like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. But there's no debating that Sleater-Kinney is the most enduring group of the lot. With Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein both handling singing and guitar duties, and Janet Weiss (who joined the group in 1996) serving as one of the best drummers in indie rock history, the group carved out its own niche.
After breaking out with the touchstone 1997 album Dig Me Out, they continued making acclaimed records until going on hiatus in 2006. After 10 years between albums, Sleater-Kinney came back with a vengeance with 2015's No Cities to Love. The band's 2019 St. Vincent-produced album, The Center Won't Hold, felt like a synthetic sonic departure, causing a rift resulting in Weiss unfortunately leaving the group. But Tucker and Brownstein soldiered on, releasing the 10th Sleater-Kinney record — Path of Wellness — in June.
With Sleater-Kinney entering a new phase as a core duo — and with the band joining Wilco at the First Interstate Center for the Arts on Aug. 5 — it felt like a good time to give newbies a taste of the best of Sleater-Kinney via a chronological playlist featuring at least one song from all 10 albums.
"A Real Man"
On the band's self-titled debut LP, the grrrls are at their most riotous. "A Real Man" best embodies this spirit via a two-minute burst of sly, screaming rejection of heteronormative female submission to male sexual wills ("I don't wanna join your club! I don't want that kind of love!").
"Call the Doctor"
On the titular first track of S-K's second album, the band hits on what would begin its signature sound: Tucker belting out howling vocals that clash against the simultaneous delivery of Brownstein's almost spoken-word delivery. It's a sound that always feels urgent, propelling this tune about women being terrorized by the male-driven medical field.
"Dig Me Out"
Dig Me Out is easily Sleater-Kinney's most iconic album, and the titular opener might be the band's best tune. The contrast between the untethered wildness of the verses and the coy chorus masterfully inverts the quiet-loud formula to maximize S-K's rock and roll allure.
"One More Hour"
Consider this the ultimate testament to Tucker and Brownstein's musical chemistry, as it's a heart-wrenching tune Tucker wrote about the two of them breaking up after a brief romantic relationship.
The bouncier, more fun counterpoint to the Rolling Stones' "Mother's Little Helper."
The Hot Rock's best track also serves as one of the most unique in Sleater-Kinney's entire discography. Essentially an up-tempo spoken-word musing on transcendentalism, "Get Up" is propelled by Weiss's perfect drumming and arguably Brownstein and Tucker's best combo guitar riff.
An essential from All Hands on the Bad One, "Ironclad" is the S-K song that sounds the most like an absolute knock-down-drag-out rumble. Plus, how can you argue against any tune built around a core metaphor of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack?
As One Beat's standout track proves, sometimes you just need a shame-free rocker about... umm... loving yourself. (Hey, at least it's way more subtle than "I Touch Myself.")
Led by Brownstein laying down one of S-K's most recognizable guitar riffs — a small high staccato bounce during the verses — The Wood's "Jumpers" lyrically wrestles with bouts of depression and hits with an absolute wallop when the chorus kicks in full force, boasting Tucker's vocals at their bellowing best.
One of the absolute best Sleater-Kinney songs, "Modern Girl" finds the band in rare sonic territory: the realm of the pretty, laid back and dreamy. But it's a somewhat false front, as the chipper plucking and Weiss' harmonica tones are the groundwork for subversion, as the song details how the idyllic exterior veneer of modern womanhood can mask a fuming anger and frustration with the world. As Brownstein repeats the refrain of "My whole life / is like a picture of a sunny day," listeners feel all of that tension, teeth-gritting and the faint hope that one of these days the words will ring true.
No Cities to Love has a strong claim to be recognized not only as Sleater-Kinney's best album, but one of the best comeback albums ever. "Price Tag" kicks things off with Tucker snarling about the cost of being a cog in the relentless capitalist system with Weiss providing the track's ominous and relentless thumping heartbeat.
"A New Wave"
A counter to the album's proceeding cynicism, "A New Wave" is a rallying cry to get up and buck the system (to, as they put it, "Invent our own kind of obscurity"). The song soars thanks to a swirling lead riff and Tucker and Brownstein's vocals linking up in the chorus for a simultaneous burst of frustration-expelling endorphins. (Does it help that the song has a Bob's Burgers music video? It certainly doesn't hurt!)
"Bury Our Friends"
A clenched fist hymn for defiant survivors, "Bury Our Friends" works both as a cry for the scarred survivors who refuse to let society bury them and as a fitting summation of Sleater-Kinney coming back from the ashes, battle-worn but not ready to give up the fight just yet.
"Hurry on Home"
Honestly, The Center Won't Hold seems like a misstep. The band seems to be trying to sound like the album's producer, St. Vincent, but the result is an album where the main vibe is sterile and synthetic (it's certainly not a collection of songs worth losing Weiss over). Since the playlist needs a track from every album, "Hurry on Home" gets the closest to actually sounding like peak St. Vincent, so it's the pick.
"Worry With You"
An easy comedown for this playlist, "Worry With You" fits with the lighter tone of Path of Wellness and extols the virtues of staying true to your partner even when you inevitably take some wrong turns. It's a fitting encapsulation of this new duo era of Sleater-Kinney for Tucker and Brownstein: "If I'm gonna mess up, I'm gonna mess up with you." ♦
Sleater-Kinney and Wilco · Thu, Aug. 5 at 7:30 pm · $37-$91.50 · First Interstate Center for the Arts · 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. · firstinterstatecenter.org · 509-279-7000