It's gotta be tough for bands that are the critic's darlings but can't sell enough CDs to become ubiquitous. They watch others, usually with less talent or vision, score big. It eats away at you. Life can get grim playing cramped clubs with narrow stages. Places where the dressing room is the third stall on the left. Many bands faced with such a fate unplug and call it quits. So you really have to admire groups that stick it out. One such band is Sleater-Kinney, named after a freeway off-ramp in Olympia, Washington, the group's hometown.
As sometimes happens, Sleater-Kinney formed as a side project. Singer/guitarist Corin Tucker was one half of the duo Heavens To Betsy. Seeing the Bikini Kill/Bratmobile influenced Heavens To Betsy, in all its riot grrrl glory, inspired classically trained pianist, turned guitarist, Carrie Brownstein to form Excuse 17. In '94 Tucker and Brownstein launched Sleater-Kinney with drummer Lora MacFarlane. A self-titled debut came out a few months later on the Chainsaw label and received widespread acclaim for its intensity and politically charged songs. "Call The Doctor," the group's '96 release, also won critic's praise for their rants against gender inequity - especially in the indie Rock arena. '97's "Dig Me Out" saw a couple changes.
The group moved to the Kill Rock Stars label and picked up drummer Janet Weiss. "The Hot Rock" arrived in '99 with "All Hands On The Bad One" coming out a year later. Still aces with the critics and a cadre of loyal fans Sleater-Kinney seemed poised for a breakthrough with one of their best albums, "One Beat." But no, they remained on the peripheral.
After recording for seven years, and despite consistently showing up in local and national magazines, it looked as though Sleater-Kinney was going to remain a well kept secret. A chance meeting led to being signed by Seattle's Sub-Pop label, one time home of Nirvana. In '05 the group released "The Woods."
After Sleater-Kinney disbanded or went on indefinite hiatus, Brownstein starred in the cult comedy Portlandia and was in Wild Flag with Weiss. Meanwhile, Tucker formed the Corin Tucker Band and also released solo material.
Sometimes an indefinite hiatus ends. Brownstein, Weiss and Tucker reunited onstage briefly in late '13 during the encore of a Portland Pearl Jam concert, where they joined the group and ex-R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck for a cover of Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World."
The next year saw a more substantial reunion. After recording in San Francisco and Portland, Sleater-Kinney issued the single "Bury Your Friends." It preceded the release of their comeback, "No Cities To Love," the group's first album in nearly a decade. "We sound possessed on these songs," Brownstein said in a statement, "willing it all - the entire weight of the band and what it means to us - back into existence."
Within months of "No Cities To Love," Brownstein published her autobiography "Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl." While in the Los Angeles-area to promote the book, Brownstein served as an officiant for an impromptu wedding of two Sleater-Kinney fans. She was a licensed wedding officiant.
'17's "Live In Paris," the group's first live set, was recorded two years earlier at the historic La Cigale theater while they were touring in support of "No Cities To Love."
1996 Call The Doctor
1997 Dig Me Out
1999 The Hot Rock
2000 All Hands On The Bad One
2002 One Beat
2005 The Woods
2015 No Cities To Love
2017 Live In Paris
The truth is, all those kudos Sleater-Kinney received from critics were well deserved. You really can't go wrong with Sleater-Kinney's sharp, smart, high energy Rock.
The critics who supported the band for years raised concerns about "The Woods." Namely, they feared S-K had changed their sound to curry favor with a larger audience. This usually happens when a group moves to a new (larger) label or wants to build up their 401k account. But Sleater-Kinney sound essentially the same though a little less frantic and a little more accessible. Is that good? Bad? It all comes down to how the listener feels about the group's earlier efforts.