Sleater-Kinney’s second act has proved to be a chapter of fulfillment. Long regarded as one of the most influential rock bands of their generation, the trio’s 2014 reformation brought rapturous reviews for the following year’s excellent full length ‘No Cities To Love’.
2019’s St. Vincent helmed ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ however, served to split fans – and the band themselves. Drummer Janet Weiss confirmed her departure in the run up to its release, saying only that it was “time for me to move on”.
Constructed during the long, strange months of 2020, new album ‘Path Of Wellness’ is a work of pleasing obstinance. Self-produced – a Sleater-Kinney first, remarkably – it eschews the colour and elasticity of St. Vincent’s studio work, while also continuing to move the band away from their prior recordings. A biting, barbed experience, ‘Path Of Wellness’ is a song cycle of staunch defiance, the work of two formidable artists obeying no rules other than their own.
Opening with the title track, ‘Path Of Wellness’ feels like a thousand ideas condensed into one place, a blizzard of confusion and frustration. ‘High In The Grass’ finds Sleater-Kinney stretching their limbs, allowing their lungs to fill with air; one of the longest tracks on her, it’s a reminder of just how deep the creative relationship between Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker goes.
Indeed, it’s this relationship which provides the record’s spine. It’s in the way the jagged guitar seems work work against the vocal on ‘Worry With You’, before the twin instruments ease into resolution; it’s in the way ‘Complex Female Characters’ feels so instant, urgent, and yet thrillingly complex.
‘No Knives’ cut and runs, 70 seconds of raw energy utterly obliterates the new wave of bands citing Sleater-Kinney as an influence. Spasms of sound, it stands in contrast to, say, ‘Down The Line’ and the way the duo are able to let their songwriting trace its own path.
At times inspired, ‘Path Of Wellness’ isn’t perfect. Sealing themselves off from the world, Sleater-Kinney permit themselves a few self-satisfied experimentations – not everything comes off, such as the slightly wayward ‘Method’, for example. At its peak, however, ‘Path Of Wellness’ is a riot, one that underlines Sleater-Kinney’s hallowed status while providing a continual challenge to the idea of them as a ‘legacy’ artist. Times change, and so do people; it’s best to move on, and move forwards.
Words: Robin Murray
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