Night Music: Sleater Kinney, “Modern Girl”

I never got into Sleater Kinney, one of those most-revered-bands-in-the-world bands. But in their first incarnation, when they won lots of Pazz and Jop polls and were always on Top 10 lists, I tasted and I spit. Everyone was calling them America’s most essential rock band, or at least Greil Marcus was, but I wasn’t having it. For me the sound was always too fractured, the angles didn’t speak to me, and I have to admit that I gave up. They just weren’t working for me.

Which was a little funny because I’ve seen their drummer, Janet Weiss, play live as a member of Quasi a couple of times, and listened to Quasi’s many records a lot, and I would say (and have said) that she’s one of my favorite drummers. Even on Sleater Kinney songs I have liked listening to her. And I’ve found Carrie Brownstein to be a winning actor and fine writer on Portlandia. And (I know this from Wikipedia) Corin Tucker married a guy named Lance Bangs, in 2000, and they had a kid and named him Marshall Tucker Bangs! How cool is that?

Sleater Kinney broke up in 2006, in order to pursue solo projects, which they did, but got together again last year to make a new album. I saw them on David Letterman last week and, surprise, I didn’t much like the song, but I was kind of surprised how bouncy and rockish and leg kicking Carrie was, and the angular riffy song got me thinking about other rock grrl bands that chose layers of dissonance and angular rhythms and, when you listened closely, pretty-neat harmonies in the vocal, over straight rock pounding. Even when there was straight rock pounding. I’m thinking post-punk icons like the Delta 5, the Slits, the Raincoats, for three, all of whom I loved back in the day and still listen to, and wondered why Sleater Kinnney got stuck in my craw.

If you’re expecting an answer here, well, you’re going to have to wait, but in listening to songs by SK tonight I came across this one. The lyrics are a little schematic, but the sound isn’t angular, it’s as heartfelt as a folk song (if that folk song is Factory Girl) and just as angry as you might hope. With almost no drums—Janet plays harmonica!

This could be a demo for a song by the Bangles, but it’s also a really strong piece. I like it. (It’s from 2006.)

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