For around a decade starting in 1995 or 1996, the best rock band in America was an all-female trio out of the indie-rock hothouse of Olympia, Wash.’s Evergreen College. And now, around a decade after they went on hiatus in the wake of 2005’s heavy-roiling The Woods, Listen to Sleater-Kinney’s First New Song in Nine Years, ‘Bury Our Friends’
Although I’ve long scoffed at box sets for duping fans into overpaying for marginalia, the end of the CD boom has undercut some of that disdain. “Dupe” doesn’t seem the right verb when consumers know what they’re getting into and record companies no longer lord it over the marketplace. Streaming has its upside — as artists disappear into history, who would gainsay a curious kid the chance to check out a genius with a click or three? But there’s no doubt in my mind that the simultaneous dematerialization and availability streaming represents has the general effect of rendering music less real and less precious for most listeners, especially young ones.
This is why I’ve long admired Sub Pop’s m.o. Almost all Sub Pop CDs are packaged in cardboard double-folds half an inch taller than competing product; almost all feature informative booklets; all protect discs with a distinctive white-tiled inner sleeve; all are set apart by art direction that sometimes messes with the pattern just described. In short, all are objects designed to be owned as objects. All rematerialize music.
Never prone to missing trends, Sub Pop was also on the vinyl resurgence early. With vintage Sleater-Kinney vinyl now rare, the box’s seven colored-vinyl albums are a major reason it sold so quickly, although the black vinyl albums of the second edition can be ordered singly. It’s to Sub Pop’s credit that the label isn’t forcing vinyl fetishists to plunk down $125 for the box, which also includes a big, charming snapshot album that Sub Pop A&R veep Tony Kiewel told me was almost as big a job for him as quality-testing the audio. Yet since I’m no audiophile, I was surprised to find that what moved me most about this project was the sound.
Sleater-Kinney Sizzles At Final NYC Show
Start Together wasn’t remixed — that would have been sacrilege. But the Chainsaw recordings needed toning up, and only The Woods sounded as good as the band thought it should. So the catalog was remastered by Sterling Sound veteran Greg Calbi, and I duly sat down to A-B-C it, old CD to new CD to vinyl. Calbi says he found unexpected low resonances he could beef up to intensify the aggressiveness in a digital iteration of the master tapes, and thenceforth worked to foreground bass so as to beef up “the aggressiveness and power of the band overall.” Worried about this tampering, I found it suitably subtle when I listened — they’d been powerful and aggressive to begin with, and Calbi’s revision stayed within that range. But I noticed a side effect Calbi hadn’t mentioned — without surrendering any of it’s own aggression, Tucker’s power warble was markedly more, well, listenable. Less screechy.
The vinyl version was nice, too — “warmer,” as vinyl fetishists like to say. But the CD had a clarity and force I personally liked even better. “Edge” has become so prized a thing in music that to say Sleater-Kinney’s old CDs have lost edge sounds like a reservation. It isn’t — that edge made them harder to hear. So as I write I’m playing the remaster of 2002’s post-9/11, post-motherhood One Beat CD twice as loud as I usually play music in my office, on speakers. The song is the anti-Bush Combat Rock. Brownstein is upping the Brit factor in her cuter, poppier voice; longer on power than warble in this song, Corin is holding forth with the kind of impassioned certitude that makes some men uncomfortable. I know as I listen that post-hiatus Brownstein, always my favorite, will join Fred Armisen as the unpinnable chameleon of IFC’s sketch-comedy Portlandia and join Weiss in Merge’s excellent all-femme alt-rock venture Wild Flag; I know that as leader of the mixed-gender Corin Tucker Band, Tucker the matron and filmmaker’s wife will squeeze in two soulful, thoughtful, unabrasive Kill Rock Stars albums that I’m in the minority for preferring slightly to Wild Flag’s one-off. But I’m so happy to reaccess them in precisely this form.
No Cities to Love, the new album will be released Jan. 21, 2015. Bet it sounds great.