Sleater-Kinney – The Woods

The Woods

If, and this is a big if, Sleater-Kinney was to never release another album, the artists’ place as rock legends would be firmly cemented with The Woods as the capstone. For a punk-rock/riot-grrl trio from the Pacific Northwest, the album is ambitious as it is daring, and it’s the most refreshing piece of new music released thus far into 2005.

Looking over the S-K discography, from the self-titled debut on Chainsaw records to the overtly political and uncharateristically pop outing One Beat, Sleater-Kinney records, while not formulaic, have always been raw. This is, after all, a punk band, and one of the best ones of the past decade at that. But all that seems like child’s play when put up against any of the 10 songs on the latest long player.

Opening with dirgy “The Fox,” right off the bat it’s apparent the trio means business. Vocalist Corin Tucker hasn’t sounded this desperate since 1996’s Call the Doctor, while drummer Janet Weiss pounds away like a madwomen, sneaking in fills in the narrowest of spaces, and lead guitarist Carrie Brownstein goes avant-rad on her guitar, filling up the notoriously rhythm happy sound with a psychedelic punch.

“What’s Mine is Yours” is a deliriously good, almost too good to be true, number with Tucker and Brownstein’s point/counterpoint vocals taking turns on the verse and choruses. The big suprise, however, comes 3/4 of the way through, when the song is flipped on its head with a…guitar solo? This isn’t your older sister’s Sleater-Kinney. This is S-K v.2005: leaner, meaner and once again, mind-blowingly inventive.

The whole albums tone harkens back to 1999’s The Hot Rock, dark and brooding and slightly experimental (courtesy of producer Dave Fridmann, manning the boards for the band for the first time). “Jumpers” is sung from the perspective of a suicide, while “Entertain” takes aim at cheap pop-culture and derivative rock bands. Album closers “Let’s Call it Love” and “Night Life” show just how far the band has come since its early days; gone are the two-minute songs, replaced by seven-minute jams bleeding into what might be the best song since Dig Me Out‘s “Jenny.”

To say this is a good album would be an understatement. And they don’t get much better than this.