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Sleater-Kinney - Path of Wellness (Album Review)

Tuesday, 22 June 2021 Written by Laura Johnson

When you’re young you view things through a black and white lens—lines are defined, sharp, and usually not to be crossed. As you get older those lines begin to blur and your outlook is awash with grey. Though Sleater-Kinney have always been trailblazers and tastemakers, some have followed their development only as far as it remained within the confines of the indie-rock and riot grrrl milieu.

Just as 2019’s St. Vincent-produced LP ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ threw many for a loop as it found the band playing with a more electronic approach, so ‘Path of Wellness’ may rattle the faithful with its stylistic nods to classic rock through the guitar lines on Worry With You, Method and Shadow Town, which also has some tasty cowbell thrown in.

The staccato, punctuated vocals and meandering guitar melodies that have become the band’s trademark remain, though Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein’s duelling leads are fleshed out with more fuzz and bite.

Sleater-Kinney perhaps best summed up their ever-evolving style with a line from ‘No Cities To Love’ standout New Wave: “No outline will ever hold us. It's not a new wave, it's just you and me.” It’s a sentiment that’s even more apt now considering the departure of long serving drummer Janet Weiss in 2019.

Despite being without a permanent replacement, the percussion here is urgent and dynamic, with duties behind the kit split between touring member Angie Boylan, Brian Koch of Blitzen Trapper, and Vincent LiRocchi, a well known part of the Portland scene. The band recorded the album in the city last summer and fall at Halfling Studio amid protests, in which they participated, wildfires and COVID-19.

Pandemic restrictions led Tucker and Brownstein to produce the record themselves for the first time in their 27 years together, taking the successes cribbed from the experimentation of ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ with them. Even more so than before, they were able to follow their stylistic instincts while still expertly creating compositions that embrace the meticulous alongside the messy, a skill they’ve honed to perfection.

This dichotomy is something they have also played with lyrically. “Well, I like those complex female characters, but I want my women to go down easy,” run the opening lines of Complex Female Characters. “It's not the summer we were promised, it's the summer that we deserve,” sings Brownstein on penultimate track Down The Line, showing just how many headlines found their way onto the album by osmosis.

Sleater-Kinney are still holding a mirror up to society by way of angular riffs, earworm choruses and shrewd commentary, but they also continue to expand their sonic palette and do so with little regard for how that will be perceived. That’s rock ‘n’ roll.


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