Channeling my inner Riot Grrrl

No Cities to Love

I look forward to Fridays for lots of reasons.  There is the obvious gateway to the weekend excuse. But the biggie, and I know you’re going to find it fundamentally silly is I love the Friday edition of the News Hour on public television.  In addition to the weekly commentary by columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks, there is usually something else interesting to hear. Last Friday the guests were members of the rock band Sleater-Kinney, who recently released a new record, No Cities To Love,  after ten years away from recording and touring.

Rolling Stone’s Greil Marcus pronounced them the greatest rock band in the world back in 1999. The trio emerged from the fertile music scene at Olympia’s Evergreen State College in the middle 90’s as Seattle’s moment of glory in the rock scene was beginning to slip away. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker handle guitar, while Janet Weiss plays drums, and all three sing.The group went in different directions after the release of their 2005 record, The Woods. Tucker formed the Corin Tucker Band in 2010 and released the record 1,000 years.  Brownstein made a name for herself working alongside SNL’s Fred Armisen on the sketch comedy series Portlandia.

But if there’s a belief this record is an effort to capitalize on Portlandia‘s notoriety, that’s simply incorrect.  I’m not a punk aficionado and I’ve only heard snippets of S-K’s  music before buying this record.  So here is what I do know: It is driving and forceful.  It is relentlessly political,  ferocious in its imagery, and angry.  It is some of the very best rock and roll there is today. No Cities To Love confronts our social deterioration and increasing embrace of commercialism as our economy slowly chugs into full production, leaving behind the detritus of the Great Recession-struggling families and embrace of vacuous celebrity over real relationships. My favorite songs are “Bury our Friends,” and “Price Tag.”  But there are no wasted tracks on this record.

The album is on Seattle’s Sub Pop label.  Sub Pop has re issued all seven of Sleater-Kinney’s previous records.  I opted for vinyl, and I cannot commend them enough for the quality of the album, including the digital download, or the ease of ordering from their website.  Great stuff.

The Punk Singer

Even before I ordered the record, however, I was intrigued with a movie that recently made its appearance on Netflix, “The Punk Singer.”  This 42 minute gem is a documentary on the life of Kathleen Hanna. Hanna fronted the first Riot Grrrl band, Bikini Kill, that gave birth to the same Olympia based movement that sprouted Sleater Kinney. Hanna is pretty and talented, and relentlessly feminist.  The band’s music was intended to further what she viewed as a third wave of American feminism.  The movie follow’s her efforts to change the world by putting out the message that women were not created to be pushed out or taken advantage of by men.  She did this first through the punk-driven work of Bikini Kill, the more accessible dance-pop of Le Tigre, and her own solo project called Julie Ruin.  It all has at its core a very artistic sensibility that is both smart and angry. As the movie explains, Hanna’s career was derailed by an undiagnosed case of Lyme Disease in 2005 that had severe debilitating effects and unfortunately kept her from performing or recording. Since the introduction of the movie, in 2013, however, Hanna has assembled a new band, The Julie Ruin, and has begun touring, which is refreshing.

I came away with a new interest in and appreciation for the Riot Grrrl movement, and am hoping to acquire more of the music from the period–especially now that all of Sleater-Kinney’s music is on vinyl.


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