Clearing Out the Woods

The Woods (Sub Pop)
Sleater-Kinney

By Sean Hoban

It's important to never get too complacent. Every so often in life, you have to take everything and throw it on the fire, watch it burn and start anew. You have to get rid of the old definitions, baggage and mold that you're buried under. People do this to challenge their preconceptions; when a band starts over from scratch, it's because they may have been stereotyped and walled-in, unable to find creativity.

Sleater-Kinney muscled out six albums and ten good years as riot grrls. On their seventh, everything comfortable is broken in favor of questioning, even their genre's typical defiance and confidence. Perhaps they wanted a little resistance, a reaction from fans and critics too used to punk. As the trio pounds through "Entertain," they sing, "Where is the 'f**k you' / where's the black and blue?" Here it is and it's called "The Woods."

Igniting the flames is the allegorical opening track, "The Fox." Vocalists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein - known for their sharp, spitting screams of lyrics - bite roughly into every word and throw the torn result out to the mikes. They trade guitar notes and dirty riffs leaving loads of empty space that the instruments will return to revel in.

The deceivingly pretty lie "Modern Girl" (My whole life is like a sunny day), provides a jolting contrast. Other songs swim in confusing metaphors ("The lemons grow like tumors / they are tiny suns infused with sour") and double meaning ("Bought a donut / the hole's the size of the entire world.") "Wilderness" shows the political, feminist and independent side the band is known for.

The two-song closing opus drags out a lot of tension, a hesitant optimism mixed with dark cynicism. It's never really resolved, despite raking the listener through 15 minutes of heavy Sonic Youth-type jams of distorted guitar and Janet Weiss' sporadic but violent drumming. The final wails create an edginess and uncertainty; to some a turn-off while to others a welcome challenge in a comfortable music world.