With recent and upcoming tour dates, a 2021 album, and plenty of fans still going strong, Sleater-Kinney has had a long career to grow, change, and put out plenty of new music — but what about their early riot grrrl days where they got their start?
Although Sleater-Kinney has become somewhat of an indie-rock darling band since the riot grrrl movement lost its traction by the end of the 1990s, one of their most recognisable albums to this day is their first effort, the self-titled release which first came out in 1995. Even before Call the Doctor, the band’s very first foray into recorded made a serious splash in the riot grrrl movement and beyond.
This record is anchored in their classic three-piece set, with original members Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Lora Macfarlane rounding out the lineup. This is the album of their bright-eyed yet musically complex beginnings, and there’s something unique in it.
At the time, this quality set them apart from some of the rudimentary mechanics of the punk scene, as Sleater-Kinney edged just slightly more technical with their instrumentals. And here, they weren’t afraid to go heavy, either. In fact, this was what set them up to branch out into the sounds they’d later explore.
Brownstein’s voice holds its same unique tonality across the album, and even after years of performing and growing into her voice, it’s still recognisable as the same energy—the same angst, and this is exactly where it comes from.
Straight from the first few notes of ‘Don’t Think You Wanna’, the complexity of the basslines and melodies prove a musical competence that runs through. It’s simply not an average riot grrrl album, with exemplary tempo shifts, tonal movement, and an overall cohesiveness through it all that set it apart.
Some people found themselves surprised at the fact that Sleater-Kinney was the riot grrrl band to last and find a prolific career beyond the movement but, in truth, we don’t even see this kind of well-rounded promise from the likes of Bikini Kill (who, don’t get me wrong, have plenty of strengths of their own). But the variation in this album tells us everything we need to know. When they’re simple, it’s intentional and planned. When they go deeper, the same can be said.
One thing that this album offers that’s unique to Sleater-Kinney’s early days is the addition of Corin Tucker’s vocals. Although Carrie Brownstein has a distinct voice and singing style that is inexplicably linked to Sleater-Kinney, having that balance of Corin Tucker’s vocals to pair with it places this album within its time.
However, there’s something here that feels simply timeless. The breakdowns, the punk progressions—they could fit in with classic punk culture or neo-post-punk. It’s simply so malleable. Just listen to ‘Sold Out’ or ‘Her Again’ and you’ll hear a band that could play a show with Dead Kennedys or Joyce Manor. It’s incredible just how much this album does, just how hard it goes while still maintaining its place as an artfully arranged and intentional collection of music.
If anything, looking back on this album proves that it deserves a little more attention. With so many iconic numbers, it’s easy to let their very first work fade into the background, especially against the success of their second album and 2005’s The Woods. If you want a little more of them, try giving their self-titled album some love.