China: 20 Years of Dig Me Out

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Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out

Released April 8th, 1997 on Kill Rock Stars Records

Straight-up:  Carrie Brownstein’s vocals are an acquired taste, but they’re a taste that I acquired a long time ago.  They’re a barrier to entry, for sure.  You either get them or you don’t, but if you get them, then Sleater-Kinney’s work ranks among the very best that rock ‘n’ roll has produced since the Alternative Revolution.

Released at the height of the Riot Grrl movement in the mid-1990s, Dig Me Out characterizes a band that was a fair bit different than the other stuff that was coming out of Seattle and Olympia at the time.  A lot of riot grrl bands favoured style over substance; they were modern art collectives, compilations of patriarchy-smashing posters set to thudding power chords.  Sleater-Kinney took a complete opposite tactic.  Their guitars were knotted and spiked, weaving odd, complicated leads over a bedrock of shifting chords.  Their dynamics were unpredictable, mixing shrieking rage into calm bliss with a deftness that Billy Corgan could only have dreamed of.  They were out to smash the patriarchy – make no mistake – but they were out to do it on their own terms, terms that at once eschewed the contemporary ideal of punk rock and yet were 100% punk as fuck.

Part of the toss-up was the addition of Janet Weiss as drummer; her steady-handed pounding and athletic fills called up the sound of the Stones and the Kinks and thereby lent more soul to the proceedings than had been found previously.  Part of it was Brownstein’s heartfelt emoting; beneath all of that Poly Styrene-esque wailing was someone more intellectual than you typically find in rock ‘n’ roll.  Part of it was the use of Corin Tucker’s voice to leaven it sometimes, of course; check out her undertones on “Words And Guitar” to really get the full effect.

Sleater-Kinney are a rare band that is able to be both stridently political and unabashedly emotional.  That Dig Me Out is just one of the great albums they’ve made that showcases this is a testament to how utterly kick-ass they are as a rock ‘n’ roll group.

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Consumer Guide: Cloud Nothings et al.

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Playing catch-up with the reviews, Consumer Guide style.  Here’s everything I’ve listened to in 2014 thus far.  As is my usual style, this list will likely expand quite a bit by the time mid-November rolls around.  A couple of them (Here And Nowhere Else and St. Vincent) probably deserve the usual individual reviews but such is life.

Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else   

The Cleveland band’s fourth album finds them scrubbing away a lot of the pop elements that Steve Albini had left on them during the process of their 2012 breakthrough Attack On Memory.  It’s a triumph of 21st Century punk rock, eschewing the sunny California-inspired pop stuff that has mired the form for most of the last decade in favour of a hard-scoured feel-bad attack.  The album also has the cojones to use the lead single/best song the band has recorded as the final track.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA-Fz7Zd39k]

 

Wild Beasts – Present Tense  

I still don’t get what people find so amazing about this album.  I’ve enjoyed the Eighties retread/re-exploration we’ve been on since 2008/2009 as much as the next person but this isn’t doing anything radically different than the next band.  I’ve heard better synth drones, I’ve heard craftier melodies, and the vocals remind me in a vague way of Xiu Xiu, and not in a good way.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IIbbFIQTKI]

 

Tacocat – NVM   

Candy-coated riot grrl punk, like Sleater-Kinney-Lite, or maybe an alternate-history Josie and the Pussycats that has a bit of actual substance.  Musically inoffensive and lyrically righteous, not a great album but certainly a good one.  Nothing original but you can sing along.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXt5n9Ni5p0]

 

The Notwist – Close To The Glass   

The German band had a breakthrough back in the long-gone year of 2002 with Neon Golden and have consistently flown just under the radar with every subsequent release.  Close To The Glass is not likely to change this particular fate but it, like the other albums, is a solid record of warm experimental pop music that balances melody with a mix of textures that change from song to song.  Deserves more than it will end up getting.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUpktwg7O4M]

 

Julie Byrne – Rooms With Walls And Windows   

Glacial, whispered art-folk, highly recommended to anyone who enjoyed Grouper’s Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill.  Beautiful like a foggy frosty morning sigh.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3DjMKLiFDE]