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Sleater-Kinney – One Beat

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For those of you keeping score, the title track of Sleater-Kinney’s new album One Beat is about finding alternative sources of energy. “Far Away” is a remembrance of September 11, and “Combat Rock” is — you guessed it — an indictment of US foreign policy. Elsewhere, the lyrics speak of motherhood, feminine empowerment, and practical bitterness in at least a dozen different forms.

Now that you know those things, forget them. They don’t really matter. Sleater-Kinney, for all the ideological weight that is constantly placed on them, is not a political band. Never on any of their albums is there a hint of proseletyzing, never do they interrupt the flow of rock to deliver an impassioned speech, Bono-style. Sleater-Kinney gains steam not from their ideas, but in the spaces between staccato drumbeats and precise shudderings of guitar noise; and the pressure builds, and the volume increases, and at the top of the whole dangerous thing is a release valve called Corin Tucker’s voice, without which the band might explode. The subject matter of the songs is eclipsed by the execution again and again, taking specific grievances and distilling them into their basest emotional components — anger, passion, love, and rhythm. All great rock and roll is driven by something: the need to voice ideas, the need to be angry, or to be musicianly, or stupid, or what have you, but all great rock and roll smashes its inspirations with the power of its sound, and in the end leaves nothing but itself. Sleater-Kinney plays great rock and roll. They are the most awe-inspiring rock band since The Clash.

“One Beat” kicks off the album with a drumbeat that doesn’t make musical sense until a rhythm guitar joins it a few bars later, and then the lead guitar comes in to offer tinny, slight punctuation to the already bare-bones captivating sound, and then enter Tucker. Her voice is a force of nature, balanced between a warble and a shreik, a heavily stylized wail of what could be either anguish or elation. “I’m a bubble in a sound wave,” she proclaims, “a push for sonic energy.” The song is anti-oil, as I said, and against the American attitude toward energy, but in these first lines, she seems to be suggesting that she herself could power the world with her voice, that her “sonic energy” could be a solution to our problems. We almost believe her. “If I’m to run the future,” she sings, again establishing herself as the center of whatever she’s proposing, “You have to let the old world go.” Yes, indeed. Let the old world go, and embrace this band.

Elsewhere on One Beat the fire is skillfully controlled inside of melodies that sound more like pop than anything they’ve ever done. “Oh!” is the best Go-Go’s song you’ve never heard, and “Prisstina” opens with a bubblegum synth line. The latter song is about a girl saved by music — a timeless theme if ever there was one — but all over One Beat, Sleater-Kinney gleefully call into question exactly what kind of music they consider the saviour. It’s not just about punk. “Combat Rock” contains guitar lines that are downright Zeppelin-esque. “Step Aside” features a horn section. The band is branching out, exploring music in a way that suggests a band much younger than they are. They haven’t undergone a stunning transformation, mind you; One Beat is no London Calling, no giant leap forward into unknown territory. Mostly they play it safe, letting the new elements serve as reminders of just how focused they are, and how even after six albums, they are still addicted to the headlong rush that made them famous.

One Beat may or may not be their best album to date. It’s hard to tell. They’ve never delivered music as tightly coiled as “Far Away,” but the album lacks a song as feriocious and borderline-frightening as “Youth Decay” from All Hands On The Bad One. One Beat, while a complete and greatly admirable album, also sounds like a transition of sorts, a small step in God-knows-what direction. For now, though, it is more than enough that they remain one of the best bands ever to pick up guitars.

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About Kenan Hebert

  • Ah Hum

    This album is loaded with some of their best material, and some of their worst. I find myself putting it on a lot, but not without a healthy dose of the ‘skip’ button. “One Beat”, “Oh”, “The Remainder”, “Light-Rail Coyote”, “Hollywood Ending” & “Sympathy” are top-notch Sleater-Kinney. Powerful hooks, lyrics and delivery. “Step Aside” & “Funeral Song” aint bad either. But songs like “Far Away” and “Prisstina” demonstrate the band getting cheesier or more bland than I thought they were capable of. “Prisstina” even squanders a guest appearence by Stephan Trask (Hedwig & The Angry Inch). The much talked about “Combat Rock”, a charged musical rant against war and blind patriotism, is honorable for sentiment alone – it’s pretty boring musically and it’s lyrics seems suspiciously ignorant of the anti-war movement that has been growing in this country before it came along. But overall, this is not a bad album…just flawed. The title track alone makes it worth buying, though.

  • http://www.baus.net christopher baus

    It is has been a long time since I’ve listened to much indie rock. As the years passed since I graduated from College I said hello to new down tempo friends Thievery Corporation and the likes, and good by to Jon Spencer and other indie rock stand-bys.

    Joey Guisto of WBER in Rochester was a big fan of Sleater-Kinney back in the day, but I hadn’t kept up with them in years. With the release of Interpol’s “turn on the bright lights,” last year I got more interested in what was going on in indie rock these days.

    I will admit most of it bored me. I realized that bands like Dashboard Confessional had bastardized and capitalized on emo. I was just too far removed from it…

    But then I heard this release from Sleater-Kinney. This is great album. It rocks and is cute in all the right places. The vocal power of songs like Faraway just blows me away.

    It brings me back to my rock and roll roots, and makes me dream of over crowded, beer stanking, so-hot-and-humid-its-misty club. It just fun. Oh. Oh. Oh.