'Another year, another slew of reunions' the cynic in me wants to think. Undoubtedly there will be plenty more reunions on the horizon but outside those groups that have used it to cash in on a greatest hits tour we've also gotten some great albums in the last few years. Afghan Whigs, Swans, Sebadoh are amongst the acts that have proven in recent years that comebacks shouldn't always be met with negativity. For as many acts that want to make some easy money there are just as many with something left to say.
The much-loved indie punk group Sleater-Kinney are the latest group to reform and have brought No Cities To Love, they're first album in a decade, with them. Formed in Olympia, WA in 1994, the group where amongst the most successful and longest lasting acts to have come from the Riot Grrl scene, taking influence from the indie and punk music from the Pacific Northwest as well as the likes of Pavement and Sonic Youth. The bands sound is also shaped by the interplay between Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, both playing guitars and taking on vocals, mixing empowered vitriol with punk energy they created music that had a vital message whilst punk rock as a whole was loosing it's bite.
Since 2005's The Woods and the groups long-term hiatus in 2006 the band went of in different directions. Tucker has released two albums with the Corin Tucker Band whilst Brownstein teamed up with Fred Armisen to create the hipster skewering comedy series Portlandia. Drummer Janet Weiss continued to work with her husband as Quasi and joined Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks as well as working with Brownstein as part of the short-lived group Wild Flag.
No Cities To Love begins with a playful riff and rolling drums but that first track, Price Tag, really hits it's stride with a big defiant chorus that puts stadium rock bands to shame without losing it's edge. Sleater-Kinney shine in these big moments and the album is full of them, mixing the straightforward hooks of The Clash and the jittery unpredictability of Devo. Fangless jerks about with these harsh, lurching post-punk riffs as the vocals delivered with a wild, shouted desperation.
The title track from No Cities to Love is one of the strongest here. An almost pop-punk track showing one of the groups big strengths of putting big, irresistible sing-along hooks amongst scrappy guitar melodies. The huge jagged slabs of dissonant chords that begin No Anthems are pure 90's era Sonic Youth, angry and weird. The tumbling melodies give way to the short and sharp melodic punk centre of the track. Fade channels Fugazi-style emo, which leads the the albums last big chorus, and is a neat fit for Tucker and Brownstein's heart-on-sleeve style of singing.
It's not the kind of punk record that snarls and spits in your face, content to pull you in with passion and melody. In fact the way Sleater-Kinney sits in this unique spot between grunge, indie rock and punk saw them picking and choosing their own space somewhere between. No Cities To Love is lean, it's momentum barely lets up, and makes for a good starting point for anyone unfamiliar with Sleater-Kinney as well as a welcome return for long-time fans. It's an album that easy to enjoy just on the basis of it's limitless energy and charm, but there is definitely more to find beneath the surface of it's immediate pleasures. Like quite a few reunion albums it seems to pick up where the band left us and in doing so shows reminds us what was so good about them in the first place.