Reunion albums are so often fraught with impossible expectations it is the rare release that is able to capture a band’s original magic without sounding like a retread — and an even rarer one that points toward a vital future.
But Sleater-Kinney is no ordinary band and, following a near decade-long hiatus, the trio roars back to life on “No Cities to Love,” out today, with all of its fiery charm intact and sounding refreshed.
Several wonderful things resulted from the seminal indie rockers’ — drummer Janet Weiss, vocalist-guitarist Corin Tucker, and vocalist-guitarist Carrie Brownstein — extended break. Weiss spent time playing for everyone from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks to the Shins, Tucker fronted her own group, Brownstein and Weiss unveiled the excellent Wild Flag project, and of, course Brownstein enjoyed her TV breakout on “Portlandia.”
Clearly these were rejuvenators because from the first swaggering lick of the stomping, urgent “Price Tag” to the last notes of the woozy, psychedelicized dirge “Fade” the women put the hammer down in a way that feels as if they had merely hit the pause button on their evolving musical conversation.
Reteaming with producer John Goodmanson and honing the songs over the last two years, “No Cities to Love” is a brief blast of the band’s best attributes. From Tucker’s impassioned yowl to Weiss’s supple and sly drumming, it sounds familiar yet not trapped in the amber of a particular era of their sound. Riot grrl heat, pop craftsmanship, and brash rock swagger commingle comfortably.
The 10 tracks move from wriggling to angular, from murmur to shout, from noisy flights to straightforward rockers — sometimes within the space of one song, as on the layered and exhilarating “No Anthems” — in a breathless 32 minutes. But every single song shares that special SK hard candy pop magic, as an irresistibly sweet melodic center is encircled by enticing but treacherous barbed wire guitar licks. Thrilling and joyous, fierce and focused, the women sound like they’re having the time of their lives sinking their teeth back into the music together.
At one point they sing, “We win, we lose, only together do we break the rules,” which sounds, appropriately, like a new Sleater-Kinney manifesto.
ESSENTIAL “No Anthems”
Sleater-Kinney plays the House of Blues on Feb. 22