Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

Any time more than one woman picked up a guitar and raised her voice in the past 20 years, Sleater-Kinney became an instant point of comparison. Yes, it was overused, but there’s also no denying how influential this band has been from the start. And now that Sleater-Kinney are back after a decade away, it’s instantly clear why they cut such an impressive figure in the crowded landscape of indie rock: they pen anthems at once elemental and elegant, tapping the mouthy ire of punk while seizing on the serpentine turns and alien melodies of art-rock.

If that sounds vague, simply drop in on any moment of No Cities to Love and experience an immediacy so, well, immediate that it can feel like you’re always playing catch-up, ever lagging behind the band’s vigorous, athletic pace. But for all the pissed-off commentary of opening track ‘Price Tag’ – sample lyric: “I was blinded by the money/I was numb from the greed” – this album manages to feel fun even when it’s bursting with furious intensity. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker continue to tangle their vocals and guitar lines as tightly as grappling wrestlers, and Janet Weiss’s drumming still has a punishing edge, but there’s constant brightness despite the seething lyrical bitterness. Brownstein and Tucker both have visible fun pushing out their vocal range, and their dynamic guitar leads recall everything from Chic to Gang of Four to Guns ‘N’ Roses.

And even though every song sounds very much like Sleater-Kinney, there’s a sneaky range to this new arsenal. ‘No Cities to Love’ is almost disco-punk, ‘No Anthems’ swaggers with rap-worthy braggadocio (“Steal your power in my hour”) and ‘A New Wave’ pulls out an ultra-poppy chorus without losing all that wordy sloganeering. If the closing ‘Fade’ evokes the stoner-rock glowering of 2005’s The Woods, the preceding ‘Hey Darling’ is betrayal writ in bubblegum, complete with instant head-rush chorus. Those voices and guitars are so recognisable even after a decade away, but they don’t sound quite the same as they once did. They’re too hungry for that, always scrambling in new directions.

“There’s so much of the band’s past in here, but they also seem to be rewriting the rules as they go”

It’s the ideal comeback, then. There’s so much of the band’s past in here, from their spikiest hostility to their sleekest accessibility, but they also seem to be rewriting the rules as they go, which makes this album just fine for newcomers too. Despite reuniting with producer John Goodmanson, who renders things so openly that there’s space to relish each individual element, Sleater-Kinney are much more rooted in the present than in the past. The lyrics riff on power, idols, money and other themes that are more timely than ever, while still having a jaunty neatness. “Seduction, pure function” goes one rhyme in ‘No Anthems’, while ‘Bury Our Friends’ offers up the succinct image “We speak in circles, we dance in code” on top of an up-to-the-minute portrait of modern malaise.

Of all the quotable lyrics on No Cities to Love – and they’re all pretty damn quotable – the one that sums up Sleater-Kinney best is “We’re wild and weary but we won’t give in.” Here they sound older and wiser yet all the more driven, thankful to be resurrecting the band but not willing to give up an inch of quality control. It’s simultaneously angry and ecstatic, enjoying every second of every outburst.

No Cities to Love is out on January 19 via Sub Pop