A law firm theyre not; Sleater-Kinney are in fact an American post-riot grrl two guitars/drums trio (yup, no bassist, just like The Doors) featuring former members of Heavens To Betsy and Excuse 17. "Dig Me Out" is their third album, recorded in the great Seattle (where else?) snowstorm of December 1996.
What could they sound like? The above, combined with the fact that theyre signed to Americas none-more-indie label Matador would get any grunge trainspotter thinking Hole straight off, and, lazy though it obviously is, the comparison isnt totally invalid: think early Hole, except with tightly-drilled machine-gun musicianship replacing the rambling shambling implosion that that band frequently were prior to "Live Through This", and add Corin Tuckers frothing, angry Feargal Sharkey-meets-Siouxsie vocals and you end up with a wildly different, and much more interesting, beast altogether.
There are times, for example "Words And Guitar" and "Its Enough", both essentially songs about making songs, that Sleater-Kinney seem to be doing with guitars what the music of The Black Dog used to achieve with all manner of synths, machines and computers; theres a self-referential starkness to it, as if it exists in its own impenetrable world and lives by its own standards and codes - it really is all it needs to get by. And then there are times when they sing about seeing Johnny at the store and hitting the road in his car, and the press releases claims about Sleater-Kinney being a punk version of the gum-smacking 60s girl groups suddenly look very believable. Its not an easy listen, and itll certainly require a degree of acclimatisation, but if you do like "Dig Me Out" youll like it a lot.
SLEATER-KINNEY One More Hour (Matador)
The most tuneful track from last years groovy, noisy, shouty post-grunge, post-riot grrl "Dig Me Out" has now been released as a single. More energy in three songs and eight minutes than in the entirety of the new Garbage album (or in the entirety of Garbages career, come to think of it), Corin Tucker wraps her Feargal Sharkey vibrato (eh?) around a spiky lyric apparently concerning the final minutes of a relationship. More than ever, Sleater-Kinney sound like a band who were inspired and moved to make rock music, rather than ending up doing it as a career choice. One of these songs is called "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone", which says it all, doncha think?
SLEATER-KINNEY The Woods (Sub Pop)
Amped and cranked from the off, The Woods rattles and hums with overdriven, crackling distortion, even during the rare quiet moments of relative respite. Perhaps all this droning and ringing was an attempt to fill out the rather shrill sound traditionally produced by Sleater-Kinneys unusual guitar/guitar/drums lineup, and it doesnt seem to have failed. The Woods is also notable for David Fridmanns involvement. Moving further from the Mercury Rev/Flaming Lips axis with which he earned his studio stripes, it becomes evermore apparent that hes not so much a producer with a distinctive house style as a facilitator, able to channel a bands creative energies to their best advantage. Adding to the sense of occasion, Sub Pop have dressed up The Woods in some distinctly unpunky lavish packaging, including a gatefold sleeve, separate lyric sheet, coloured, marbled vinyl and a silk screen of, appropriately enough, the cross-section of a tree trunk on the unused fourth side. (Im presuming the claim that the second side is meant to be spun at 30 rpm is a typo.)
If, for the most part, the songs are the buzzy, yelped non-conformist anthems that are typical of the Sleater-Kinney marque, there are moments that transcend such expectations. The tense tickover of Jumpers is a coiled anti-California spring, and the sassy, swinging Modern Girl sounds like a post-grunge Sheena Easton relayed via a detuned radio. The instrumental breaks on Steep Air push previously uncharted levels of heavy metal intensity, and the feeling that the band are establishing themselves as a feminist riposte to the elephantine likes of Led Zeppelin is only enhanced by the 11 jam-heavy, screaming, sweaty minutes of Lets Call It Love. If The Woods isnt the kind of work to bring Sleater-Kinney recognition far beyond their small circle of fans, it nevertheless finds them taking adventurous risks whilst remaining staunchly true to their core values, for which it should be applauded.