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Sleater-Kinney
The Woods
Sub Pop Records
www.sleater-kinney.com


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.

"Jumpers" …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 down".

"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 guitar.

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.

-Bill Donovan

Track Listing:
1. The Fox
2. Wilderness
3. What's Mine is Yours
4. Jumpers
5. Modern Girl
6. Entertain
7. Rollercoaster
8. Steep Air
9. Let's Call it Love
10. Night Light

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