Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Sleater Kinney – “Night Light” from The Woods (2005 SubPop)


Is Sleater Kinney the best band in rock right now? I want to say so, but then I remember that I bought three new releases* last year, so it’s maybe not as if I’ve got my finger squarely on the pulse of what’s hot. But I do know this: Sleater Kinney is an absolute powerhouse. I was lucky enough to see them live at First Avenue on Valentine’s Day (my beloved shelled out kind of an obscene amount of money to a third party vendor because the show sold out within minutes), and their live show is something to behold. You can do so here via an NPR Front Row video, but as you might imagine, it’s just not the same.

And that new album! Holy jesus is it good! And Wild Flag (Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss’ supergroup side project during SK’s hiatus)!

All of this must seem like so much fawning digression, and to a certain degree it is, but here’s the deal. The Woods was SK’s seventh studio album, and their last before their long hiatus. My wife says that it’s their best, and she may well be right, except for I can’t get over how flabbergastingly good No Cities to Love is. At any rate, The Woods marked a real departure — from their old label (moving to Sub Pop from Kill Rock Stars), old producer (working with Dave Fridmann instead of John Goodmanson), and raging full-on into classic/psych-rock territory.

This has all been written about elsewhere at great length, given that The Woods was, indeed, really fucking good and also kind of a surprise, sonically. I mention it all again here because, with the benefit of a 2015 vantage point, it’s possible to interpret The Woods as a pre-hiatus statement of what the band is capable of. It’s kind of a “see you later, and when you do (via Wild Flag and No Cities to Love), you better believe we’re gonna bring the rock.” Okay, the individuals in Sleater Kinney have never given any indication that they talk like that, but you get the idea.

“Night Light,” the album’s closing track, can then take on a special significance as the band’s final missive before the break. There are moments where it soars, but it also functions as a sort of come-down from the dizzying intensity of most of the tracks that preceded it, particularly “Let’s Call it Love,” the eleven-minute song that showcases Weiss’ ferocity on the drums, Brownstein’s super-shredding, and Tucker‘s vocal heights. In fact, “Let’s Call it Love” bleeds right into “Night Light”–the two songs were recorded together in one take.

“Night Light” functions as a coda, then, or almost a kind of reprise of the rest of the album (with the exception of maybe “Modern Girl”). Their have been Hendrix comparisons galore where this album is concerned, but I can’t help but think of Jimi’s take on “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, but maybe a bit more tuneful.

The song is one about struggling to find hope in a world that can be, at times, incredibly dark:

How do you do it
This bitter and bloody world
Keep it together and shine for your family
How do you do it
With visions of worst to come
Live in the present
And spin off the rays of the sun

And I know it’s trite and tacky, like the worst pandering rock journalism you can think of, but I don’t care: Sleater Kinney, in 2015, is that hope. It’s a rare band that can serve as such a force, an inspiration. Click this link for tour dates.

*YOB – Clearing the Path to Ascend
Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
The Salteens – Whiskey and Records 7″

This is why I decided not to do a year-end round-up.