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Sleater-Kinney's 'The Woods' stands tall

October 05, 2005 - By ALAN SCULLEY

For the Call

With six albums under the band's belt during a decade-long career, Sleater-Kin-ney drummer Janet Weiss said it gets harder with each album to find fresh ideas to bring to the group's music.

That didn't deter the acclaimed trio from Portland, Ore., when they began work on their seventh CD, " The Woods."

"Why put out records if they're not going to be different?" Weiss asked. "Why put them out unless they're going to somehow push us into some new areas and deal with some new material? We didn't want to be redundant."

"The Woods" is emphatically different — even daring. It's also arguably the best rock record to come out so far in 2005. Weiss and her bandmates, guitarist/singer Corin Tucker and guitarist/singer Carrie Brown-stein, came into "The Woods" after reaching a couple of crossroads in a career that already had established them as one of al-ternative rock's most dynamic groups. In 2001, Time magazine even proclaimed Sleater-Kinney "America's best rock band."

For one thing, the band had decided it was time to try to rev up its career after six albums, most of them on Kill Rock Stars Records, that had never achieved anything more than modest sales — even by indy-rock standards. This meant an amicable split with Kill Rock Stars, whose modest resources were sure to limit the band's ability to expand its following.

Given the amount of critical acclaim Sleater-Kinney has enjoyed, a move to a major label might have been a realistic possibility. But Weiss said the band hasn't been approached by many major labels.

In the end, the group signed with the larger indy label, Sub Pop Records — famous as the original label for Nirvana. Global domination, clearly, wasn't the band's objective.

"We're not trying to take over the world or whatever, take over the mainstream or anything like that," Weiss said. "That's not a goal of ours. I don't think we're breaking into anything. I think we just want to make sure that as many people that want to hear the record get to hear the record, and maybe try to find some creative ways to get our re-cord out there without having to do things that compromise what we believe in. That's the goal, no compromise, and finding people who will facilitate that."

The step up to Sub Pop also came at a time when the band had reached something of a creative crossroads. Weiss said the band realized some fans felt they had pegged the band stylistically. Sleater-Kin-ney wanted to explode some outside ex-pectations. Even more importantly, Weiss, Tucker and Brownstein wanted to surprise themselves.

"... We wanted to break out and do something unique, something that would really challenge ourselves,'' Weiss said. "I think we were ready for a huge challenge, and I wanted to make music that I would love to listen to. That was the primary focus."

Sleater-Kinney's intentions are apparent from the opening moments of "The Woods," as the CD opens with the thick, sludgy guitars and crashing drums of "The Fox." The band always has rocked briskly before, with angular interlocking guitars teaming with the vocals of Tucker and Brownstein to form a hooky, yet enticingly offbeat sound.

"The Fox," though, easily is the most raucous song the group has recorded. Nothing else on "The Woods" is quite so jarring, but the rest of the CD continues to ratchet up the noise factor, while delivering some of the catchiest tunes of Sleater-Kinney's career. "What's Mine Is Yours" — perhaps the CD's most stunning tune — launches itself with an attention-grabbing opening dueling guitar riff, backed by Weiss' rock-solid beat. "Entertain" rocks emphatically behind a stinging guitar lines and a pounding beat. The two songs that close the CD, "Let's Call It Love" and "Night Light" are sandwiched between an extended, largely improvised jam that should thrill fans of brash but creative guitar and drum playing.

Even a song that stays closer to the group's signature sound, such as "Wilderness," in-cludes a particularly edgy guitar solo.

Weiss said the heavier, harsher sound of "The Woods" largely was a reflection of creating music that fit the times.

"I think it was just our moods really," she said. "I think we were, it was a combination of personal things, political things, sort of the state of the country, the state of music. I think in general we did not want to make a record that was passive or quiet or just easy to listen to and soft. We were kind of frantically trying to make something bold and strong and aggressive and heavy and dark, something that can grab you by the throat."

Sleater-Kinney plays Saturday, Oct. 8, at Mississippi Nights, 914 N. First Ave. Tickets for the 9 p.m. show, which also features the Ponys, cost $12 in advance and $14 the day of the show.

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