Nobody asked, but I just wanted to say that no artist matters more to me than Sleater-Kinney. I offer this unsolicited piece of personal trivia if only to (necessarily) oversell this otherwise mildly exciting news to many: The band is back with a new song titled “Worry With You” along with news that they will be dropping a new album called “Path of Wellness” on June 11 this year. It’s their follow-up to 2019’s “The Center Won’t Hold,” an ambitious synth-heavy record that predictably polarized listeners due in part to its supposed departure from the band’s raw, guitar-and-drums setup. The St. Vincent-produced record is also the last one featuring Janet Weiss, Still The Best Drummer In Indie Rock.
I’m still trying to figure that album out, but the most honest, impartial thing I can say about it is that just like the rest of their discography, you can’t assess it based solely on the rigid good-or-bad dichotomy. It is extremely easy to fall trap to these reductive assessments—deciding whether a record is, simply, “good” or “bad”—but the genius of Sleater-Kinney lies in their unyielding rejection of easy definitions, of complacency and comfort, all without losing touch with their roots. Hence, 19 years of genre-traversing, politically charged rock that illuminated what it means to be queer and feminist and human. Of course, in the context of early music journalism and the sacred rock canon, that means constantly outdoing yourself for close to two decades so as to render the singularly stupid question, “what’s it like to be an all-female band?” irrelevant.
Sleater-Kinney is (mostly) way past that point in their career, and not that they needed permission or for the natural sobering properties of time to nullify the shock value of queer stories set against “unpalatable” music, but “Worry With You” feels like something of a reaffirmation of—a virtual lesbian salute to—what the band stands for. I may or may not be pertaining specifically to the music video, which follows a queer couple at home amid, presumably, the COVID-19 pandemic. The two women are living in close quarters, and so they obviously vacillate between loving and hating each other. But the point, as the song rather unsubtly spells out, is that even if things are shit, at least they have each other—which is probably the most you can ask for during a time of unprecedented longing and loneliness.
It’s a neat little indie rock track that has the trappings of a standard Sleater-Kinney song: Carrie Brownstein’s hiccupy, heavily cadenced vocals set against the interplay between a Stella Bagcan-esqe-slash-Gang of Four-type guitar riff and Corin Tucker’s bass-like guitar. It’s one of their more pop-leaning songs, not by way of “All Hands On the Bad One” choruses, but of a new sonic sensibility that is aware of the music now and the meaninglessness of labels like poptimism or rocktimism or whatever.
Sleater-Kinney have always been masters of distilling messy feelings into potent and cohesive things; sonic monoliths that hit you and remind you to keep resisting and questioning. We need more of that this year; and the next, and the next.
Writer: Catherine Orda
Photo screengrabbed from the “Worry With You” music video