FOR NEARLY A DECADE of my life—from 1997 to 2006—I saw Sleater-Kinney at least twice a year. At La Luna, at the Glass Factory, at Meow Meow, at B Complex, at other venues whose names I can't remember because they no longer exist. I don't remember too much about the shows themselves, either—it's all a blur of sweaty rooms, girls with cat-eye glasses, cool lesbians traveling in packs. The same faces jostled in the crowd at every show—my ex-girlfriend's ex-boyfriend was always at the front of the stage. Bands like the Need opened, and Gossip, and the Butchies and Bangs and the Haggard. Sometimes Sleater-Kinney would swap out different names in the lyrics to "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone": "I wanna be your Mary Timony." Corin Tucker's voice was as undeniable as the weather, and shows became queer and feminist spaces, the likes of which I don't think exist nearly as often in Portland anymore. (Or maybe they do, and I've just gotten so lazy that I'd rather stay home watching Scandal than go find them.)
So it's really easy to write nostalgically about how great Portland's music scene was in the '90s. And it's really easy to write nostalgically about the reunion of the band whose pictures I taped up in my locker in high school. I could probably get out at least 600 words on mixtapes alone.
There's a problem, though, which fundamentally undermines that whole approach: Sleater-Kinney has no room for my nostalgia. Sleater-Kinney fucking shreds my nostalgia. Their 2015 album No Cities to Love is as urgent and forward-looking as anything the band's ever released. You can't be nostalgic about something that's still as relevant as Sleater-Kinney is.
Like each of the seven albums that preceded it, No Cities feels both singular and inevitable. It's an album that could only have come from one band, this band, but it doesn't feel familiar. Instead, it marks the further evolution of a sound that's only grown more confident in the band's nearly decade-long hiatus.
Of course, these women were still making music when they weren't making it as Sleater-Kinney. Tucker's put out two solo albums with the Corin Tucker Band. Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss played together in Wild Flag. Weiss is still in Quasi. Maybe those years apart, developing their skills in different contexts, help to account for the nearly mechanical precision of No Cities, the distinct balance of elements that are all equally essential. Listening to the songs on this album is like watching an octopus build a robot. Voices tangle, guitars argue, drums flail, and somehow all the pieces come together in propulsive life.
Sleater-Kinney's profile has risen since they broke up in 2006, thanks to everyone finally realizing how great they were all along. (Brownstein getting famous probably helped, too.) Their Portland show sold out almost immediately. Their legacy was set in stone before they dropped this bombshell of a new album—it's hard to imagine what the future might hold. For now, though, it's a strange and fortunate thing that we get to see this band again, making music that's as good as anything they've ever put out.
But—for nostalgia's sake—I hope they play "Get Up."