One Beat and more from Sleater-Kinney

Less was more when Sleater-Kinney performed at the The Roxy on Monday, October 14. With a feeling a bit more reserved than in the past, Sleater-Kinney kept the songs electric and the chit chat down to a minimum. Perhaps this was a result of the apparent maturing of the post-riot “grrl” group hailed by acclaimed rock critic Greil Marcus as “America’s Best Rock Band.” Since their last album, front woman Corin Tucker gave birth to her first son while drummer Weiss recorded and toured with her other band Quasi around the country. Carrie Brownstein, meanwhile, took an acting role in a local film production. Touring in support of their astounding new album One Beat (kill rock stars) , the band rocked through the entire new album without much more than a four-song nod to their old repertoire.

Sleater-Kinney’s sixth album One Beat opens with a steady but deliberate search for a downbeat. The drums call upon two electric guitars, which appear chopping out power cords and a peripatetic melody. Then Tucker’s operatic voice emerges, thundering with “I’m a bullet in a sound wave – exploding like the sun. ”

On “Combat Rock,” Tucker cries “The good old boys are back on top again/ And if we let them lead us blindly/ The past becomes the future once again.” Always current and always unafraid of protest, Sleater-Kinney offers pointed criticism over the right wing, pro-war and culturally chauvinistic segments of America. In addition, on “Far Away,” Tucker hollers her confusion over the state of the world after September 11: “Why can’t I get along with you?” The music follows the sentiment with Tucker and Brownstein’s guitars in counterpoint and Weiss’s drums approximating the chaos and madness of that day.

Yet for all the tension conveyed on this LP, there are many instances of possessed pop bliss. “Oh!,” is nearly four minutes of euphonic perfection, with Brownstein’s sweet vocals carrying the verse and the wailing of Tucker driving the chorus, all accentuated by a wildly oscillating organ. Sleater-Kinney also creates fantasy with a heroine tale where Tucker sings in support of the good-girl with “But have yourself a ball, Prisstina, do all the things I would!”

Ever mindful to extend their musical form, Sleater-Kinney playfully incorporates string arrangements, synthesizers and horns into their new album, a departure from the earlier austerity. “Step Aside” is the best example with Tucker vocal’s colliding with Stax-inspired horns and 50s girl-group harmonies by Brownstein (whose airtime on this album is almost equal of that of the celebrated Tucker) and Weiss.

In short, all dozen tracks are worthy of praise and analysis.

Sleater-Kinney successfully reiterates the urgency of the group’s message and its continuing relevance to rock.