It takes several listenings to realize how deftly Sleater-Kinney
work the lyrics into their music - or is it vice versa? On
The Woods, the 7th album from the band, there's a maturity
to the songwriting rare in music today where the music echoes
the sentiments of the lyrics to great effect. From the despondency
of "Jumpers" to the driven sexual pounding of "Let's
Call it Love", they manage to imbue the lyrics into the music
instead of simply stitching verses together around it.
Of course, those lyrics wouldn't be Sleater-Kinney without Corin
Tucker's voice. Only 32 seconds into the opening track, "The
Fox" and the uninitiated will be startled. After a brief
march on a heavy beat, the song stalls and that voice begins to
recount a fable of a fox and duck before punctuating it with shrill
cries of "Land ho!". It's this voice that propels a
lot of Sleater-Kinney's material and it has a timbre unlike almost
any other in rock - very high-pitched, with a lot of trilling.
At times it has a songbird quality, while at others it sounds
more like bleating, as though that same songbird suddenly got
wooly. It's as powerful as it is distinctive and it is the left-hook
to a lot of the melodies, highlighted dramatically on this track.
"The Fox" is a tale of a young duck who knows enough
to stay away from the good-looking fox, who knows only one trick.
"He could break hearts lickety-split / The duck knew this
game she had to quit / And her own pond she was headed to quick".
Following this opening are two songs that complement each other
well, "Wilderness" and "What's Mine Is Yours",
respectfully. "Wilderness", a playful romp with a fuzzy
backside, concerns a couple, Kenny and Linda, who can neither
commit to one another or quit each other. "We're split right
in half / It's making me crazy / A two-headed brat / Tied to each
other for life". The difference between the two songs lies
in the guitar leads; whereas the lead gets fuzzy and chummy with
the rhythm in "Wilderness", it steps into an opiate
pothole all on it's lonesome in "What's Mine Is Yours".
Deeply reverberated echoes and delays meander for just a little
while before the drums, second guitar and voice step in and tow
it back into the song.
if you're not suicidal, it's tempting
to skip this song after listening to it once through. It was a
surprising choice to play on David Letterman's show, but
it does give Carrie a chance to show some sterling guitar
work towards the end of the song. Still, there are better songs
to play in a running automobile in a locked garage.
"Modern Girl" starts off very Pollyannish, accompanied
halfway through by a happy-go-lucky harmonica. The whimsical melody
doesn't depart but the recording values gradually degrade as the
song progresses till the refrain, "My whole life was like
a picture of a sunny day" sounds desperate in the contrast.
On the heels of this, "Entertain" comes on like smelling
salts. This song is a shout-out of dissatisfaction to those who
look to yesteryear in order to avoid today. "Nostalgia, well
you're using it like a whore / it's better than before, ah it's
better than before". The song ends with Carrie Brownstein's
militant call out to these people and a defiant Corin backing
her with the chorus "Don't drag me down, I'm not falling
"Rollercoaster" comes the closest to being an honest
pop song with a free-spirited, somersaulting feel. Who doesn't
want to clap and shimmy to a cowbell? Just like the song's title,
there's a zenith at the top of a long pull with nothing but the
wind to listen to for a brief moment before plunging back into
more of the same. This song proves to be a nice breather before
"Steep Air", a song which plods along with Janet
Weiss's rolling drums before breaking into strong swells of
The highlight of the album, "Let's Call It Love" brings
sex into the ring with a crisp, strident beat held down at first
by a single note plucked on the rhythm guitar which the drums
rally around. Building upon the challenge laid out by the lyrics
("Come on let's go to the mat / hit the floor honey, let's
battle it out / I've got a long time for love") the song
plays out like a championship bout. The singing picks up from
that issued challenge with Corin's voice hitting the stratosphere
while Carrie's is breathlessly backed into a corner by the abuse
being pounded out on the drums. Just when it feels that everybody
is delivering everything they've got, the bell rings and it's
back to their respective corners. Literally. From that moment,
the instrumental portion of the song moves to the center of the
sonic ring with a brief return to the opening one-line beat. From
there, the guitars start to move around one another, feeling one
another out all over again before one finally breaks free from
the melody and gets loose. It gets a bit indulgent towards the
7 minute mark with a lot of effects being introduced in the mix
without any break in the action, but it does gradually wind it's
way to a conclusion without losing all of the song's steam. This
song would have made a powerful closer but instead it segues into
the dreamy and entirely bleak "Night Light", an unfortunately
much less sturdy coda to an otherwise solid album.
1. The Fox
3. What's Mine is Yours
5. Modern Girl
8. Steep Air
9. Let's Call it Love
10. Night Light
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