I never liked Sleater-Kinney. The piercing vocals were unbearable, and fem-punk-rock was never my thing. While all the alternative papers drooled and obsessed over these three Olympian Kill Rock Stars in the mid-to-late '90s, I shrugged my shoulders and asked, "What's the big deal? Why all the fuss?" No one answered, so I turned my head the other way and never thought twice about Sleater-Kinney or the ruckus they were making.
Then I heard One Beat. I mean, I really listened this time, like I never had before. Yeah, I'd heard bits and pieces of previous albums here and there. Yeah, they've been around nearly eight years. And, yeah, it took me this long. Shake your head in disapproval all you want; call me lame, ignorant or whatever. But call me honest, too 'cause at least I'm being honest, not faking that I was a fan from day one.
I can't tell you if One Beat is better than the last one (All Hands On the Bad One) or the one before that (The Hot Rock), or worse than their first (Sleater-Kinney). I can't tell you any of that, 'cause I wouldn't know. I never listened to Sleater-Kinney's five previous albums (which also included Call the Doctor and Dig Me Out) enough to know. But if they're anywhere near as good as One Beat, then sheesh, I guess I've been missing out. And S-K have been in my own Portland, Ore., backyard the whole time but, but the grass looked greener....
Was I not excited, then, to receive an advance of One Beat in the mail? Actually, I was very eager to receive it and to really hear Sleater-Kinney not skim over their music, but try to get inside it, to feel it. And besides, my mind's a lot more open to new music than it used to be. I was finally going to uncover what all this ruckus was about (I know, I know, eight years later).
So, as soon as I ripped it out of its package, I slapped that baby on. And man oh man, did it hit me hard. So intensely emotional, it rumbled right under my skin and disintegrated all my previous misconceptions. The singing of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein no longer made me squirm or scrunch my face up in annoyance, but traveled from my ears to my heart, shaking my insides along the way. The guitars spiraled, crunched, danced and talked to each other. The big bad drums of Janet Weiss heard what the guitars were talking about and knew precisely how to mix in thump, slap, boom. I listened. I really listened. I heard love for art, love for expression, and an amazing chemistry that only comes from such love. And, God, they really meant it, they really felt it. Otherwise they'd never be able to communicate it to me like they do, to millions like they will.
I don't think it's the band that changed so much; it's the way I now hear them. The talent, the skill and most important the passion in Sleater-Kinney's music became evident, rising out of the unfriendly noise I had previously only heard and subsequently dismissed. "Is this really happening?" I'd ask myself while listening to One Beat. "Am I actually liking Sleater-Kinney?!" Yes, I really like this band. I might even love them, but hey, hey, hey, hold up that's not a word to be thrown around lightly, so I'll have to get back to you on that one.
Sleater-Kinney aren't just musicians they're thinkers, poets and intellectuals. Their words are as potent as their sounds. Every song on One Beat expresses a critical belief or tells an important story. Wrapping your head around the thoughts and feelings inside you, then pulling them out and shaping them into an understandable form for the rest of the world to grasp, is no easy feat. Sleater-Kinney's music would be powerless without their keen ability to express what's happening inside of them.
Listening to One Beat is like looking through an old shoebox that stores a thousand memories good and bad. All these emotions begin finding their way out of the deep, dark regions of your mind, creeping up on you, captivating you. In one minute, happiness fills your body with warmth as you recall a close friend; in the next, shivers run the length of your spine over something lost. You could be smiling and sad, laughing and crying; the line between the two becomes practically nonexistent, the different feelings become one and the same. The box, the album, holds and conjures different emotions of frustration and anger, love and joy, hope and faith, but in the end it's a single, overriding feeling that outweighs all else, that spreads goose bumps all over. Like the shoebox, One Beat is held together not by disparate feelings but the act of feeling consciously feeling. And hoping that the act of feeling means a world truly exists outside the box, a world that might be as close, as connected, as the contents of the box.
From the urgent cries for mind-opening evolution on the title track, the shock and sorrow expressed on the Sept. 11-inspired "Far Away," and the booty-shaking politics and feverish punk of "Combat Rock" and "Hollywood Ending," all of One Beat is strung loosely together by a common plea: for awareness, for understanding, and, most of all, for holding onto hope.
I never used to like Sleater-Kinney, but it only took One Beat to give me a dramatic change of heart.