Wednesday, July 20, 2005

sleater-kinney - the woods [album review]

[Sub Pop, 2005]

Ok, so Sleater-Kinney. They’re pretty big right now, and rightly so. The Woods is their first album on Sub Pop records, but their seventh in total. Now, this review is somewhat overdue, considering the buzz surrounding this album - a buzz, which on the whole, has been astoundingly positive. This reviewer certainly isn’t going to forsake objectivity for the sake of originality, though. It does make the album a little harder to discuss, but luckily The Woods is one of those albums that stands out so much that writing comes easily.

One might expect something a little derivative of their earlier albums. But within their style, Sleater-Kinney are pretty experimental – not groundbreakingly so, but just enough so that old fans of their earlier material (such as Dig Me Out or Call the Doctor, both of which’s sounds are recalled throughout The Woods) are kept happy, while newcomers to their style can also find enjoyment.

It’s produced by Dave Fridmann (known for various production work, most notably with The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev), and this factor seems to be a common point of discussion in other reviews of The Woods. In particular, the working relationship of the band with Fridmann has had substantial discussion. Apparently working together pushed the band to the brink of breaking up, as Fridmann declared openly that he was not a fan of their work.

Getting back to the record itself, though, this element does, it seems, actually effect the sound of The Woods. Tension is a key aspect, which could be partially accredited to the aforementioned working relationship, but probably moreso to Sleater-Kinney’s ability to juxtapose emotion with raw, fuzzed-out and dense guitar sonics to sound anthemic, without being hackneyed. It recalls bands like Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix in terms of it’s heaviness, which is similar to another recent release; The Hold Steady’s Seperation Sunday.

Thankfully, there is a lot of diversity present on this poltically-minded post-punk/indie rock record. Quieter, more melodic and heartfelt tracks like “Modern Girl” (a beautiful track, by the way - particularly in its contrast with the rest of the LP) are far removed from the classic rock indulgence in riffery exhibited by “The Fox” or “Wilderness”. Intensity, whether in terms of emotion or just raw instrumentation, is always high in importance, as are various other punk and post-punk sensibilities.

The Woods packs a huge punch. It’s a rollicking, flamboyant album that can retain a political and expressive seriousness whilst still rocking the fuck out with an ease that is rarely seen in indie rock these days.

-Richard MacFarlane

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