Sleater-Kinney, into the ‘Woods’

A synthetic sense of nature inspires band’s newest album

by Keri Carlson

Just as Henry David Thoreau once did, Sleater-Kinney had to retreat to nature to gain perspective.

Instead of Walden Pond, though, the woods Sleater-Kinney uses for inspiration on their new album are synthetic. Like its cover, the trees are just paper and paint on a stage, designed to create the illusion of nature.

The wilderness Sleater-Kinney sees is “where hippies run wild,” but it’s also where dreams and hopes fade.

On the group’s seventh album, the three women of Sleater-Kinney emerge with more confidence than ever before. Every sound is gigantic. Janet Weiss’ drums pound as loud as The Who’s Keith Moon. Corin Tucker’s shrill cry becomes even more uninhibited. And Carrie Brownstein delves into 10-minute jam sessions.

For a band that’s recognized for their quick, punchy punk songs, long guitar solos come as a surprise this time around.

Thankfully, Sleater-Kinney remain true to their riot grrrl roots and do not stray too far into Led Zeppelin wankery. This evolving direction only highlights the band’s decade-long chemistry.

But unlike Thoreau, Sleater-Kinney has not found contentment or peace. The last album, 2002’s “One Beat,” was an angry response to the Bush administration.

“The Woods,” too, is full of anger, but at who or what is not as easily traceable.

The most abstract song begins the album. “The Fox” is close to an Aesop-like children’s song – concentrating on the dialogue between a duck and fox. The track’s music, however, is unsettling, as Brownstein and Tucker’s guitars waver between notes and the tempo refuses to settle into a comfortable groove.

“Jumpers” calms into a more conventional Sleater-Kinney style, perhaps to ease the prick of its beautifully poetic but painfully depressing lyrics. Brownstein and Tucker harmonize, “The lemons grow like tumors / they are tiny suns / infused with sour.”

“Entertain” is ironically the most poppy and entertaining song on “The Woods” despite Sleater-Kinney’s warning, “If you’re here ’cause you want to be entertained / please go away.”

To Sleater-Kinney, there are too many troubling things in the world right now. And not even the woods can serve as refuge.