Sleater-Kinney, “No Cities to Love” (Sub Pop; 2015)

“Perhaps it was inevitable that Sleater-Kinney would reunite. They parted ways in 2006 claiming that it was a hiatus, not a dissolution, thereby leaving the door open for a comeback — a comeback that arrived nearly ten years after the group faded away. Smartly, Sleater-Kinney don’t pick up the threads left hanging by the knotty, roiling The Woods. They acknowledge the decade they spent apart, a decade where all three members pursued very different paths: Corin Tucker turned toward domesticity then founded her own punk-blues band, drummer Janet Weiss played with Stephen Malkmus before re-teaming with Carrie Brownstein in Wild Flag, an indie supergroup that provided Brownstein a breather from her newfound fame as a television star. In short, all three spent ten years living their lives and those lives can be felt throughout No Cities to Love, a record that neatly balances urgency and maturation. Purposefully short — the album weighs in at barely over a half-hour — and conspicuously bereft of slow songs (the slow churn of the closing “Fade” is the only contender), No Cities to Love feels breathless but it also finds room to breathe. Previously when Sleater-Kinney stretched out musically, they were assisted by an outside producer — they hired Roger Moutenot for The Hot Rock, Dave Fridmann for The Woods — but here, they reunite with producer John Goodmanson, who helmed every other one of the trio’s records, and that familiarity is a key to the success to No Cities to Love. Sleater-Kinney worked on these ten songs over the course of two years, deliberately ditching songs that recalled the past (“Hey Darling” comes closest to evoking the old rush), a move that often results in complex syncopated rhythms (more than the group flirt with a disco-rock pulse) and rich, multi-layered melodic hooks in the guitars and vocals. It’s a bright, openhearted call to arms, an antidote to The Woods, and a furious and cloistered record that found the band retreating whenever they decided to look on the outside world. Which isn’t to say Tucker and Brownstein are happy with the state of affairs in 2015: No Cities to Love attacks contemporary politics as directly as One Beat did in 2002, teaming with anger, anxiety, and unresolved questions. Despite this internal tension, the first and lasting impression of No Cities to Love is one of joy, a joy that emanates from a group who realized the purpose and pleasure of being in a band during their extended absence.” – Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AMG ALL MUSIC GUIDE (RATING: 4,5 stars out of 5)

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Now is the time: breaking the decade of relative silence that followed Sleater-Kinney‘s prodigious supposed finale, 2005’s The Woods, the girls are back in town. We have arrived at the critical reappraisal and celebrated comeback of music’s most revered feminist saviors of American rock’n’roll. It is 2015 and we are staring down Sleater-Kinney’s wise eighth album—exactly 50 years removed from the birth of “R-e-s-p-e-c-t”, exactly 40 years removed from the birth of Horses, exactly 30 years removed from when Kim Gordon first yells “brave men run away from me” in the Mojave desert, exactly 20 years removed from Sleater-Kinney, a primal, insurrectionist warning shot from the margins. Ever since, we have had Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss to soundtrack our societal chaos and progressing zeitgeist: tangled agitation, pummeled norms, principled wit, sublimity, sadness, friction, kicks.

Nowadays, there is a prevailing notion that we ought not want such epochal bands as Sleater-Kinney to reunite, because why tarnish the legend of “Best Band in the World” acclaim and a perfectly ascendant seven-album streak? But if any band in the past two decades has proved they’ve got the intellect, skepticism, and emotional capacity to deserve this—to keep living—it’s Sleater-Kinney. No Cities to Love is a disarming, liberationist force befitting the Sleater-Kinney canon. Fervent political leftism has been implicit to this Olympia-born trio since they first inverted Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” on a 1994 comp and that goes on here as well; we desperately need it. It is astonishing that a radical DIY punk band could grow up and keep going with this much dignity and this many impossibly chiseled choruses. No Pistol, Ramone, or unfortunate mutation of Black Flag could have done this.

The necessity of change—the creative virtue of ripping it up and starting again—remains a crucial strand of Sleater-Kinney’s DNA. This is still them: low-tuned classic rock tropes resuscitated with punk urgency, raw and jagged like Wire compressing crystalline Marquee Moon coils. Weiss’ massive swoop is still the band’s throbbing heart, pumping Sleater-Kinney’s blood. But Brownstein has said they set out to find “a new approach to the band” and that is true of No Cities to Love. It is no less emphatic and corporeal than punk classics Call the Doctor and Dig Me Out. But unlike their last two albums of monstrous combat rock, No Cities to Love keeps only the most addictive elements—if Sleater-Kinney are still taking Joey Ramone as a spiritual guide, this is their mature, honed, and clean-sounding Rocket to Russia. Catchy as all-clashing hell, it’s Sleater-Kinney’s most front-to-back accessible album, amping their omnipresent love of new wave pop with aerodynamic choruses that reel and reel, enormously shouted and gasped and sung with a dead-cool drawl. The album has the particular aliveness of music being created and torn from a group at this very moment—tempered, but with the wild-paced abandon that comes with being caged and then free.

As ever, empathy is Sleater-Kinney’s renewable energy source. They have always made a kind of folk music—songs of real people—and opener “Price Tag” is an honest example of this, fueled by Tucker’s motherly responsibility. In concrete detail, it describes the struggle of a working class family in the context of American capitalism and financial crisis (it rings of the high cost of low prices). Real life power dynamics permeate No Cities, among the rubbery synth lines of the otherwise venomous “Fangless” (which I know will frighten off a couple to-the-bone punk purists, like garlic wards off evil) and the anxious post-hardcore lurch of “No Anthems”, which Albini could have produced. On the glammy “Gimme Love”, Tucker plainly wants more of that four-letter-word for girls and outsiders (she seems to wish, in the words of de Beauvoir, “that every human life might be pure transparent freedom”). Brownstein, meanwhile, sings some of the most elliptical and oblique lyrics of her career: “I was lured by the devil… I’ll choose sin ’til I leave,” she hollers like a Bad Seed, clenched and possessed. In lighter moments, it’s heartening to hear Tucker and Brownstein in unison at the record’s sing-song center: “No outline will ever hold us/ It’s not a new wave/ It’s just you and me.”

Sleater-Kinney began work on No Cities in earnest around May 2012, they have said, but especially on the anthemic title track and “Hey Darling”—the first two songs they wrote—you can hear echoes of that decade of pause, an airing out of just why. The titular phrase is abstract enough, but considering Brownstein’s vocal incompatibility with the van-show-van-show tour-life void—and her lines, here, about “a ritual of emptiness”—it plays like a direct take on the complicated reality of the rootless rock band and its scattered tribe. On “Hey Darling”, one of Tucker’s gummiest melodies becomes a letter to fans, reasoning her hiding: “It seems to me the only thing/ That comes from fame is mediocrity,” and then, “Sometimes the shout of the room/ Makes me feel so alone.” The slow-burn of “Fade”, the closer, also takes on Sleater-Kinney’s hiatus. Tucker is like a Robert Plant putting her supernatural quasi-operatic range on display over epic, minor-key hard rock, switching from sly-voiced ballad to high-pitched inflection: “If there’s no tomorrow/ You better live,” she sings of a dimming spotlight, her slipping self-perception. It’s the closest No Cities gets to The Woods’ feminist rewrite of ’70s rock grandeur, and yet sounds like nothing on that record. Sleater-Kinney’s discography is full of songs delivering meta-commentaries on what it means to be women playing rock; No Cities is more purely personal and explicitly political, evidence enough that in the context of family, middle-age, and multiple careers, it is possible to have everything.

For the first time in 21 years, Sleater-Kinney have written an album without a proper stomach-twisting tearjerker; no wistful confessions, breathless breakups, or dying lovers, no“Good Things”, “One More Hour”, or “The Size of Our Love”. But I predict Sleater-Kinney will be making more people cry this year than ever before—maybe Lena Dunham, maybe Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves, definitely Fred Armisen (tears are highly subjective, and yet my claim is substantiated). “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion famously wrote, and we align ourselves with the potent narratives of great bands for the same reason. Their songs guide us through the restless process of figuring out who we are. We search for meaning in rhythm and couplets and distortion, and if a band is grounded with as much purpose as Sleater-Kinney, they charge our consciousness, occupy space in our relationships, symbolize what we want to become. Sleater-Kinney’s music still does this. It tells us—women or anyone who has ever felt small and othered—the truth, that even when the world seems to deny it, we are never powerless. Now the story goes on longer; it didn’t have to end.” – REVIEW BY JENN PELLY, PITCHFORK (RATING: 8.7 out of 10)

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The Flaming Lips’ “The Soft Bulletin” #PetSounds

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So where does a band go after releasing the most defiantly experimental record of its career? If you’re the Flaming Lips, you keep rushing headlong into the unknown — The Soft Bulletin, their follow-up to the four-disc gambit Zaireeka, is in many ways their most daring work yet, a plaintively emotional, lushly symphonic pop masterpiece eons removed from the mind-warping noise of their past efforts. Though more conventional in concept and scope than Zaireeka, The Soft Bulletin clearly reflects its predecessor’s expansive sonic palette. Its multidimensional sound is positively celestial, a shape-shifting pastiche of blissful melodies, heavenly harmonies, and orchestral flourishes; but for all its headphone-friendly innovations, the music is still amazingly accessible, never sacrificing popcraft in the name of radical experimentation. (Its aims are so perversely commercial, in fact, that hit R&B remixer Peter Mokran tinkered with the cuts “Race for the Prize” and “Waitin’ for a Superman” in the hopes of earning mainstream radio attention.) But what’s most remarkable about The Soft Bulletin is its humanity — these are Wayne Coyne’s most personal and deeply felt songs, as well as the warmest and most giving. No longer hiding behind surreal vignettes about Jesus, zoo animals, and outer space, Coyne pours his heart and soul into each one of these tracks, poignantly exploring love, loss, and the fate of all mankind; highlights like “The Spiderbite Song” and “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” are so nakedly emotional and transcendentally spiritual that it’s impossible not to be moved by their beauty. There’s no telling where the Lips will go from here, but it’s almost beside the point — not just the best album of 1999, The Soft Bulletin might be the best record of the entire decade. – Review by Jason Ankeny

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An excellent documentary by Pitchfork TV reveals the genesis of the Lips’ masterpiece:


Directed By RJ Bentler. 45 minutes.
Download The Soft Bulletin (320 kps). Read reviews at Metacritic.

Pump up the volume & watch Jeff Buckley’s full concert in Chicago, 1995. What an awe-inspiring musician!

Chicago

Live at Cabaret Metro in Chicago is a live DVD by Jeff Buckley, recorded on May 13, 1995 at Cabaret Metro during the Mystery White Boy tour.

Tracks:

  • “Dream Brother” (Jeff Buckley, Mick Grondahl, Matt Johnson)
  • “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” (Jeff Buckley)
  • “Mojo Pin” (Jeff Buckley, Gary Lucas)
  • “So Real” (Jeff Buckley, Michael Tighe)
  • “Last Goodbye” (Jeff Buckley)
  • “Eternal Life (Jeff Buckley)
  • “Kick Out the Jams” (MC5)
  • “Lilac Wine” (James Shelton)
  • “What Will You Say” (Jeff Buckley, Carla Azar, Chris Dowd)
  • “Grace” (Jeff Buckley, Gary Lucas)
  • “Vancouver” (instrumental) (Jeff Buckley, Mick Grondahl, Michael Tighe)
  • “Kanga Roo” (Big Star)
  • “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen)

Bonus material (click links below to watch)

Personnel:

Jeff Buckley – vocals, guitar
Michael Tighe – guitar
Mick Grondahl – bass guitar
Matt Johnson – drums

Rage Against The Machine: remember their bombastic debut, a groundbreaking Musical Molotov Cocktail…

01 Bombtrack

02 Killing in the Name

03 Take the Power Back

04 Settle for Nothing

05 Bullet in the Head

06 Know Your Enemy

07 Wake Up

08 Fistful of Steel

09 Township Rebellion

10 Freedom

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Rage_Against_The_Machine___Aage_Against_The_Machine

Review by Eduardo Rivadavia @ AMG ALL MUSIC GUIDE

“Probably the first album to successfully merge the seemingly disparate sounds of rap and heavy metal, Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut was groundbreaking enough when released in 1992, but many would argue that it has yet to be surpassed in terms of influence and sheer brilliance — though countless bands have certainly tried. This is probably because the uniquely combustible creative relationship between guitar wizard Tom Morello and literate rebel vocalist Zack de la Rocha could only burn this bright, this once. While the former’s roots in ’80s heavy metal shredding gave rise to an inimitable array of six-string acrobatics and rhythmic special effects (few of which anyone else has managed to replicate), the latter delivered meaningful rhymes with an emotionally charged conviction that suburban white boys of the ensuing nu-metal generation could never hope to touch. As a result, syncopated slabs of hard rock insurrection like “Bombtrack,” “Take the Power Back,” and “Know Your Enemy” were as instantly unforgettable as they were astonishing. Yet even they paled in comparison to veritable clinics in the art of slowly mounting tension such as “Settle for Nothing,” “Bullet in the Head,” and the particularly venomous “Wake Up” (where Morello revises Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” riff for his own needs) — all of which finally exploded with awesome power and fury. And even listeners who were unable (or unwilling) to fully process the band’s unique clash of muscle and intellect were catered to, as RATM were able to convey their messages through stubborn repetition via the fundamental challenge of “Freedom” and their signature track, “Killing in the Name,” which would become a rallying cry of disenfranchisement, thanks to its relentlessly rebellious mantra of “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” Ultimately, if there’s any disappointment to be had with this near-perfect album, it’s that it still towers above subsequent efforts as the unequivocal climax of Rage Against the Machine’s vision. As such, it remains absolutely essential.”

Malkmus and the Jicks – Live in Toronto (Lee’s Palace)

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STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS
Live at Lee’s Palace (Toronto)
February 22, 2014

Review by Eduardo Carli de Moraes

It was a chilling night of this long Canadian winter, and Toronto’s streets were all covered with slippery layers of ice and mountains of snow. Radiohead’s words occured to me – “You watch your feet for cracks in the pavement”, sings Thom Yorke in OK Computer’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien” – as I went to my encounter with Mr. Malkmus trying not to kiss the floor. The harshness of the weather outside wasn’t exactly inviting an adventure outdoors, but after shielding myself behind some heavy coats, I headed for the concert with some Pavement’s pet sounds, playing loud on the earphones, as a warm-up. And there I went, trembling with the chilling winds as well as with an youthful excitement I usually nickname “the teenage kicks” (after the Undertones punk hit). After all, I was about to witness, in my first ever experience at Lee’s Palace (the Torontonian CBGB’s?), a living legend of North American indie-rock – who happens to be, also, a very sharp stand-up comedian.

I deem Mr Malkmus to be one of those artists who are homo ludens incarnate (Johan Huizinga would’ve liked him, I guess). The lead singer for alternative rock legendary band Pavement, who has been fronting The Jicks and has already recorded 6 studio albums with his new group, certainly was in high spirits in this particular evening. His troupe of Jicks seemed equally at ease. At one point, Mr. Malkmus thanked Canada, the brother-country at the North, for some of its greatest contributions to mankind: Neil Young, Sloan and Moosehead Beer. At another point, bass-player Joanna Bolme went to the mic to share with the audience her loneliness: she felt the house was packed with guys and called out for the girls in the house to make a little noise; Malkmus consoled his bandmate’s made-up blues: “Well, we’re all girls in indie rock…”. On stage, Malkmus and The Jicks seemed simultaneously excited and cool – they seemed quite happy to be there, playing and joking, and went through their set doing it like the Sonics recommended: “Maintaining My Cool”.

The band sounded great: some loud guitars reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr. and Built to Spill attacked us from the speakers throughout the show, but The Jicks also explored some gentler tunes that evoke comparisons to the Velvet Underground, Half Japanese, or even Elvis Costello. Malkmus’ singing, filled with wordplays and verbal games, are a trademark since the Pavement’s days and still sound quite charming, despite the fact that its meanings are, to me, very frequently felt as pure nonsense. Like a Dadaist poet who listened to much Lou Reed – or some extravagant stuff similar to that. He also sometimes sounds like a white boy trying to rap (the sort of stuff Beck Hansen used to do really well back in Odelay era). To sum things you: this was a great live musical experience for me, an admirer of Pavement’s music (but somewhat negligent follower of Malkmus’ The Jicks).   The concert has revived in he the conviction that Pavement was truly one of the greatest American indie-rock bands of the 90s – especially due to the benchmarks Slanted & Enchanted, Crooked Rain and Wowee Zowee (but Brighten The Corners and Terror Twilight are also very interesting and listenable records; more than that: they’re quite lovely and lovable).

I hope I’ll get a chance to see many more concerts as good as this one was during my time in Toronto, and I certainly have already fallen somewhat in love with that neighbourhood, at Bloor Street, one of my favorite places in town: it’s filled my great bookstores with truly accesible prices (like BMV, City Books, and many others), it has hempshops filled with goods for potheads (from clothes made of hemp fibre to vaporizers, grinders and other devices), and it has stunning street musicians that scream out their lungs in front of Dollaramas while reviving Nuggets psychedelic gems. As a souvenir of this chilly Canadian night where I found so much human warmth in these musicians, I leave you with a video filmed there at Lee’s Palace, as I witnessed for the first time, in flesh-and-bone, doing their thing on a stage in front of a howling and cheering audience… Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks:

You might also like:

Pavement’s “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” (1994), one of the greatest alternative rock albums of the 90s, with 12 bonus tracks (FULL ALBUM / free stream)…

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PAVEMENT

“Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” (1994)

Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine:

It may be a bit reductive to call Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain the Reckoning to Slanted & Enchanted‘s Murmur — not to mention easy, considering that Pavement recorded a song-long tribute to R.E.M.‘s second album during the Crooked Rain sessions — but there’s a certain truth in that statement all the same. Slanted & Enchanted is an enigmatic masterpiece, retaining its mystique after countless spins, but Crooked Rain strips away the hiss and fog of S&E, removing some of Pavement’s mystery yet retaining their fractured sound and spirit. It’s filled with loose ends and ragged transitions, but compared to the fuzzy, dense SlantedCrooked Rain is direct and immediately engaging — it puts the band’s casual melodicism, sprawling squalls of feedback, disheveled country-rock, and Stephen Malkmus‘ deft wordplay in sharp relief.

It’s the sound of a band discovering its own voice as a band, which is only appropriate because up until Crooked Rain, Pavement was more of a recording project between Malkmus and Scott Kannbergthan than a full-fledged rock & roll group. During the supporting tour for Slanted, Malkmus and Kannberg recruited bassist Mark Ibold and percussionist Bob Nastanovich, and original drummer Gary Young was replaced by Steve West early into the recording for this album, and the new blood gives the band a different feel, even if the aesthetic hasn’t changed much. The full band gives the music a richer, warmer vibe that’s as apparent on the rampaging, noise-ravaged “Unfair” as it is on the breezy, sun-kissed country-rock of “Range Life” or its weary, late-night counterpart, “Heaven Is a Truck.”

Pavement may still be messy, but it’s a meaningful, musical messiness from the performance to the production: listen to how “Silence Kit” begins by falling into place with its layers of fuzz guitars, wah wahs, cowbells, thumping bass, and drum fills, how what initially seems random gives way into a lush Californian pop song. That’s Crooked Rain a nutshell — what initially seems chaotic has purpose, leading listeners into the bittersweet heart and impish humor at the core of the album. Many bands attempted to replicate the sound or the vibe of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but they never came close to the quicksilver shifts in music and emotion that give this album such lasting appeal. Here, Pavement follow the heartbroken ballad “Stop Breathin'” with the wry, hooky alt-rock hit “Cut Your Hair” without missing a beat. They throw out a jazzy Dave Brubeck tribute in “5-4=Unity” as easily as they mimic the Fall and mock the Happy Mondays on “Hit the Plane Down.” By drawing on so many different influences, Pavement discovered its own distinctive voice as a band on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, creating a vibrant, dynamic, emotionally resonant album that stands as a touchstone of underground rock in the ’90s and one of the great albums of its decade.

Shared above it’s CD-01 from “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: LA’s Desert Origins”, and it contains the following material:

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
1. “Silence Kit” — 3:00
2. “Elevate Me Later” — 2:51
3. “Stop Breathin'” — 4:27
4. “Cut Your Hair” — 3:06
5. “Newark Wilder” — 3:53
6. “Unfair” — 2:33
7. “Gold Soundz” — 2:39
8. “5 – 4 = Unity” — 2:09
9. “Range Life” — 4:54
10. “Heaven Is a Truck” — 2:30
11. “Hit the Plane Down” — 3:36
12. “Fillmore Jive” — 6:38

“Cut Your Hair” single
13. “Camera” — 3:45 (R.E.M. Cover)
14. “Stare” — 2:51

“Range Life” single
15. “Raft” — 3:34
16. “Coolin’ by Sound” — 2:50

“Gold Soundz” single
17. “Kneeling Bus” — 1:33
18. “Strings of Nashville” — 3:46
19. “Exit Theory” — 1:00

Gold Soundz Austral-N.Z. French Micronesia 94 Tour EP
20. “5 – 4 Vocal” — 2:08

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain bonus 7″
21. “Jam Kids” — 4:54
22. “Haunt You Down” — 4:51

No Alternative compilation
23. “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” — 3:51

Hey Drag City! compilation
24. “Nail Clinic” — 2:25

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