By AVA LIVERSIDGE
90’s indie-rock outfit Sleater-Kinney are back for their tenth record, Path of Wellness, but this time as a duo with ambition to return to their sonic roots. After seminal drummer Janet Weiss left the group, remaining artists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker knew onlookers were expecting a change. And down to the record title, Path of Wellness thrusts Sleater-Kinney back, past the sound of their most recent projects, to their musical heyday. In embracing this nostalgic sound, Sleater-Kinney are able to reckon with last year’s plight head on.
As Brownstein and Tucker circle back, what the group has always excelled at illustrating is reconceptualized and made anew: anger. During the acme of Riot Grrrl, in which SK were integral players, their anger was mostly directed towards the patriarchy and the likes, whereas now, while they do continue to hold that torch (see: “Complex Female Characters”), they seem more bewildered by the last year’s havoc. While some of this confrontation feels trite at points, seeing as Path of Wellness is following a six-month slew of records that all deal with the recent turmoil, art is situational.
Speaking of situational, Weiss’s departure left the remaining two needing to prove themselves in the percussive department, which they did. High points include “Favorite Neighbor” and “High in the Grass” where the rolling drums are bombastic behind the two’s signature falsettos. SK are evidently starving for a return to analog. The vocal performances are still characteristically cartoony and alienized, but the instrumentals dominate with tact. The riffs are foremost and memorable — tracks like “Path of Wellness” and “Worry with You” have radio-worthy catchiness.
Where SK strays from the indie rock mold they’ve constructed are in unexpected tinges of funk on Path of Wellness. The brief keyboard additions, breathy vocals, and groovy guitar riffs draw upon their more recent releases to, purportedly, add an experimental element to the mix. These synthetic mixes cast a shadow over the album, making more soulful or raw tracks sound similarly contrived.
As Brownstein and Corrin remind us on “High in the Grass” to “Feast on the day / As it runs from you,” we are brought back to the loss central to this record. The live-in-the-moment mentality that adopts such pertinence in today’s world, because “We can’t imagine what we’ll lose” (“High in the Grass”), looms large over Path of Wellness, perhaps even over the compositional decisions. If SK are driven to reflect upon the moment, rife with sentimentality for the past and what’s gone by, why wouldn’t they have made a record that draws on their halcyon days and then pump it full of contemporary, synthesized breaks? Path of Wellness did what it set out to do. SK are now primed to venture in any musical direction they so please.
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