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Sleater-Kinney - Path Of Wellness (Mom + Pop)

25 June 2021

This is a very interesting release. After the departure of long-time drummer Janet Weiss, the dynamic of Sleater-Kinney was always going to change, or differ. However, the duo of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein have kept the torch lit respectfully with the follow-up to 2019’s acclaimed The Center Won’t Hold. In truth two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney is better than none, and this album is far better than expected, in fact it’s a great listen. The Path Of Wellness retains that energetic basis of the mid-nineties Riot Grrrl movement, it is less commercialized, or even art-rock sounding than the previous release. 

Those expecting a mundane plodding through numbers will be quite surprised by what’s on offer. As the album fires up with passion, and drives forward thanks to some bombastic arrangements by the now duo. It is worth noting  The Path Of Wellness is actually the band’s first self-produced work. That control over this release is an important factor at this point in time, and perhaps it is their way of rebuilding and sounding fresh. But the proof is in the playback, and Sleater-Kinney have done a respectful job across these eleven tracks. That fact works in their favour as fans and critics will view this as a new chapter. Compared to previous albums, this one is under the microscope more than any other since their return after a decade with 2015’s No Cities to Love

Anyhow, this is a band who are at their best when they are challenging the consensus. From the opening, self-titled track, you realise how much of Sleater-Kinney’s identity is still within the mix. It is laden in funk tones with a twist of menace that makes it stutter along as it shifts gears effortlessly. The lyrics spark as they always have – “Drain me of my toxins drain me of the life I lead, but you will never rid me of my human frailty”. Following is the dense, melodic assault of “High in the Grass”, again after the initial burst it settles into a rolling guitar pattern that sways, breaks at the chorus, all together making it a sweet listen. 

A lot of what is here, glides instead of detonates. “Worry With You” holds a subtle urgency, as does “Method” with its early-eighties tones ot Siouxsie And The Banshees. The longest of the set “Shadow Town” gets reflective, and the vocals of Brownstein are savagely broken. At this point the album is characteristic of Sleater-Kinney, it feels as if the loss of one member has been replaced by lashings of inventive music. That said, the dark glam rock vibes of the venomous “Tomorrow’s Grave” is something new, a style not explored before but thankfully makes sense in its place on the album. That is before the short, abstract “No Knives”, a haunting piece with feedback on a leash, and then the bluesy “Complex Female Characters”. The scope of what the duo is attempting is vast, thematically difficult to pull off but they do. Both have enough experience and enough imagination to make it work.

The straight rocker “Down The Line” exudes a hint of Bowie. There is a fine scuzzy guitar line gelling it together and it gives the track another dimension of pleasure against the singalong mantra “I know it’s alright”. As we begin to close with the organ driven “Bring Mercy”, a slick observation that keeps the momentum flowing into the final fade. However it will be viewed over the passing of time, and in ‘best of’ lists, The Path Of Wellness will cause arguments amongst the die hard fans. Imagine the debates of “Yes it is good! But it shouldn’t be?”. The fact of the matter is Sleater-Kinney is not going to disappear, or go quietly into the pages of history, and for that we are thankful. 

1.Path Of Wellness
2.High in the Grass
3.Worry With You
5.Shadow Town
6.Favorite Neighbor
7.Tomorrow’s Grave
8.No Knives
9.Complex Female Characters
10.Down The Line
11.Bring Mercy

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