Jimmy Gibson

Songwriter / Filmmaker / Journalist

Sleater-Kinney: The Path of Wellness (2021)

Two years after the release of the The Center Won’t Hold, the band’s danciest, synthiest release to date, Sleater-Kinney is back with a return to their guitar-centric punk roots while maintaining some of the modern production touches from the last record. Right off the bat, we are treated to the same angular riffs that show up all over their late-90s output. The title track introduction makes a powerful opening statement with its thick, fuzzy low-end heavy intro that eventually jolts itself into the transcendent “High in the Grass.” Abrupt dynamic changes are a common theme, especially for this first third of the record. Guitar and vocal pyrotechnics explode out of nowhere spiced and punctuated with quiet, thoughtful musical interludes

While the album sticks to the spirit of early S-K, it makes several deviances over the course of the record that greatly benefit the overall experience. One of the highlights of the album for me was the combination of the uber heavy, almost Black Sabbathian “Tomorrow’s Grave” into the fluttery, eerie “No Knives” and finally into the slinky, sinuous sounds of “Complex Female Characters.” Every song sounds quintessentially Sleater-Kinney, but it’s as though they were run through a kaleidoscopic random genre generator. 

The 2019 departure of longtime drumming powerhouse Janet Weiss is felt less on this record than its predecessor. Any extra emphasis on complex percussion and slick production here seems less like an attempt to compensate for a Weiss-less band and more just a new sonic direction for the group. The more I listen to these songs, the more intricacies and details pop up that I didn’t hear upon first listen. Like good sushi, the album is raw but it’s got layers. I guess I could have gone for the onion comparison as well…

Closing tracks “Down the Line” and “Bring Mercy” are both solid songs, but they lack the experimentalism and boldness of what came before. It’s not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the album by any means, they close the album in a rich and fulfilling way, but they slightly hold it back from being what I would consider a jittery neo-punk masterpiece. Don’t get me wrong, this record is stunning and it’s one of my favourites from the year so far. They’re back!

Favourite Tracks: 

Where “Worry With You” when the pandemic first hit?! It’s just what the world needed as we were all trapped inside alone with our thoughts. Better late than never, I suppose. The jagged, yet liquid guitar riff intro sounds like it would fit in perfectly on a Television record and never before has taking a wrong turn sounded so twistedly-romantic. The woozy and effect-laden post-chorus briefly leads us out to the depths of the universe before immediately crashing back down to earth. This band knows how to play with space, and “Worry With You” has it all, from claustrophobia to vast emptiness.

“Method” shows the band at their most Pretenders-y. Vocally and lyrically the song is a compelling lovelorn plea (see: “fuck it, I’m down on my knees”), but instrumentally it is deceptively light and breezy. Only Sleater-Kinney could create a song that sounds so nuanced while at the same time repeating “I’m singin’ about love” over and over again. It’s the kind of thing that means something different every time it comes around and it’s all due to the obvious care that went into the layered recording process.

“Tomorrow’s Grave” does a fantastic job of balancing its heavy guitar and bass riff with sweetly ringing chimes. The moody, shifting tempos and rhythms are artfully unsettling. It would be easy for this song to bog down and ruin the pace of the album, but luckily it doesn’t take itself too seriously in its dark melodrama. Perfect for brooding of any kind.

“Complex Female Characters” has my favourite instrumental interplay on the record. It’s minimal and sparse to leave plenty of room for the lyrics, and because of this every single note comes across hard-hitting and necessary. Because of this, the two guitar parts on the back half of the track drill themselves directly into your skull. The song is breathlessly fluttery, grimy and completely timeless all at the same time.

Rating: 9/10

Genre: Indie Rock, Punk

Length: 39:02

Listen to this if you like: Bikini Kill, St. Vincent, Kim Gordon/Sonic Youth

Cheers, Jimmy