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Sleater-Kinney



Over the last half decade, Sleater-Kinney has simultaneously become both the most visible, successful group to emerge from the early-'90s riot grrrl movement and total masters of their message and craft. They're one of those rare bands that can transcend the unique moment in time during which they emerged and appeal to a broad, diverse audience without ever sacrificing the artistic integrity and core values that motivated them to begin making music in the first place.

Sleater-Kinney's roots lie in two early '90s punk groups inspired by pioneering riot grrrl act Bikini Kill: Corin Tucker's Heavens to Betsyand Carrie Brownstein's Excuse 17. The two women met in Olympia, Washington in the early '90s and soon formed Sleater-Kinney as a side project, naming the group for a major Olympia thoroughfare. Eventually the duo enlisted drummer Lora Macfarlane and in 1995 the trio recorded their debut LP on Chainsaw Records. Less than a year later they followed with the hugely acclaimed, anthemic Call the Doctor.

The two albums defined the emerging group's trademark style. With songs built around Tucker's distinctive, hair-raising yowl, Brownstein's aggressive harmonizing, and the duo's busy barbed-wire guitar lines, Sleater-Kinney delivered astonishing three-minute bursts of undiluted, eight-cylinder punk rock with unmistakable, clearly intelligible ideological messages contesting America's persistent social injustices, lingering gender inequalities, and rampant materialism. The trio had redefined punk rock for the post-riot grrrl era, had reclaimed it for women, and in doing so, had gotten back to the core of what punk was all about. Sleater-Kinney's raw, raucous intensity, mastery of the melodic punk rock anthem, and polemical fire earned them a dedicated fan base which extended far beyond the bounds of the typical riot grrrl audience.

That fan base would only grow after the 1997 release of Dig Me Out, which saw the group leave Chainsaw for Kill Rock Stars and replace Macfarlane with new drummer Janet Weiss. If anything, the group got even fiercer on this album, their songs became leaner and more complex, and their technical prowess increased considerably. Dig Me Out appeared on numerous critics' and major music magazines' year's best lists, earning the group still more exposure.

So expectations couldn't have been much higher for the group's fourth release, 1999's The Hot Rock, and some fans were disappointed that Sleater-Kinney took a more muted, introspective turn on this album, departing somewhat from the visceral, declamatory emotions of their previous records. But the sometimes spooky, sometimes experimental album revealed a group completely on top of their game, willing to try new things, eager to challenge their listeners.

Sleater-Kinney's 2000 All Hands on the Bad One, featured some of the most colorful, playful, accessible tunes they'd written so far (see the infectious title track). The group then went on a brief during which Tucker started a family, Brownstein worked on a project called Fully PDX, and Weiss recorded a new Quasi album with ex-husband Sam Coomes. But midway through 2002 Sleater-Kinney is back with 2002's One Beat, on which the trio's trademark febrile energy boils over once again. The album features the patented intertwining guitars, abstract beats, and engaging vocals you've come to love and expect, plus some intriguing guest players such as Northwest independent musician/producer Steve Fisk (formerly of Pell Mell) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch composer Stephen Trask.

After six full-length albums and numerous other releases, Sleater-Kinney had yet to take a serious misstep. Their songwriting continues to evolve and mature, with every album simultaneously building on and departing from their previous efforts.