Listening to Sleater-Kinney is like riding a Harley through thick La Brea sludge. Their latest, One Beat, is as free-spirited as it is grounded, as terse as it is groove-heavy and as roots-focused as it is path-forging. One Beat comes to us dutiful listeners after a hiatus that hasn’t, fortunately, stripped Sleater-Kinney of their grit and energy. They may have spent the last two years doing side projects, studying, or getting domestic on our asses, but hell, they don’t say good things come to those who wait just to sell ketchup.
One Beat is an aural grudge match between the lollipop sassy-pants cuts and thundering, ten-story wail of Corrine Tucker. The Kinney roll around in a guitar-rock mudbath (Can I interject, briefly, and say Carrie Brownstein, aka indie-rock’s Jimi, has some of the nicest live guitar moves on today’s stage?) tackling an array of subjects, from motherhood to terrorist attacks. And all hail to the band that progresses without neglecting its roots. But thankfully the band departs further from the subject matter of their 1995 release on Chainsaw, a ten-song panorama of the bane of pleasuring a man orally, with each release. But all the important stuff remains: the punk-rock ethos, the balls-out energy and the pervasive feeling of youth.
Just as expected, Sleater-Kinney spits out twelve tracks in a none-too-lengthy 43 minutes. And the wonder-twin (or triplet, in this case) powers activate early on, forming a stream of sound that, with the three members sharing vocal duties, is hard to permeate. They come with ferocious allegations ("And the president hides / while working men rush in / to give their lives" from "Far Away"), rogue social commentary ("Where is the protest song?" from "Combat Rock") and a welcomed menagerie of horns, sha-na-nas and oohs.
But unlike with current social issues, One Beat gives us very little to be angry about, and the trio rewards you for sticking around. The album’s final cut, "Sympathy," is the gem. It kicks stronger than backwoods Mississippi moonshine, held up by the ankles by the band’s unavoidable indie background. It’s got a swamp feel, especially in the slow-groove intro, when the song boasts strictly a dim-lit blues bar aesthetic. "There is no righteousness / in your darkest moment / We’re all equal in the face of what we’re most afraid of," Tucker wails, emoting roller coaster melodies.
Still, Sleater-Kinney can be a bit of an acquired taste. Not that that should turn-off the standard sound seeker, but the band’s angular romp and sometimes-sass is not always welcoming. But this record is as perfect for the fan as it is for turning on new listeners. And, in Sleater-Kinney’s quest to find their own sound, One Beat is a welcomed fresh face in the ongoing discourse. They seem to have found, in updating their own tastes, a distinct sound. I hear funk, I hear blues, I hear rock, I hear punk. Shit, I hear doo-wop. And I eat it up.