Written by: Vincent Nijenhuis
No Cities To Love (2015) is Sleater Kinney commenting on the indie trope of revival bands feeding on nostalgia through a sanitized, commercial lens. Now granted, this isn’t the first time Sleater Kinney has openly bashed unearned nostalgia. “Entertainment,” off their 2005 album The Woods, confronts the growing popularity of new indie acts being ‘inspired’ (aka ripping off) older bands using said inspiration “as a whore” to peddle nostalgia to naive ears. “Entertainment” commented on a trend in indie music that a decade later has gone completely mainstream with acts like Lana Del Rey, and Taylor Swift seducing people with nothing, but generic, reductive longing for a time period they are too young to even remember. But The Woods was released a decade before No Cities To Love, so how does Sleater Kinney see this trope now? Sleater Kinney sees it just as tired, and useless it was a decade before.
Sleater Kinney on this album has come back after a decade long ‘hiatus’ to a culture that is obsessed with the 90s bands with the most commercial sound they ever done for a full album. Yes, Sleater Kinney has released the occasional pop song like the brilliant “You’re No Rock N Roll Fun,” but never for a full album have they tried to appeal to the masses to sneak in a subversive message critiquing the masses. This can almost be played on the radio. Almost. Sleater Kinney is still too abrasive on some tracks on this album to get regular airtime, like “Bury Our Friends” with it’s rough vocals that match an equally jagged guitar, and the most palpable song for the mainstream are not particularly interesting.
“Fangless” lacks the bite we’ve come to expect from Sleater Kinney. It often feels like Sleater Kinney is still trying to play the role of Sleater Kinney rather than embrace a new one which, to be fair, does add to the self reflective quality of the album, but at times feels contrived. It’s when Sleater Kinney walks the line of embracing both their grunge roots, and modern indie rock that this album works best.
“A New Wave” manages to capture the meta narrative of this album with three beautifully simply lines: “Eyes are the only witness/Die to prove we ever lived this/Invent our own kind of obscurity.”
One can almost call this a concept album. Sleater Kinney has made an ‘90s revival record’ to mock the hollowness that often comes with making a record simply to pander to nostalgia. With a cleaner production than they have ever had before, they mock the hipsters who would probably be buying this album on the title track “No Cities To Love,” a song about “the nothing we love” about traveling to quote unquote ‘our’ special little pieces of emptiness in our cities. The album opens with a broken jazzy guitar grove which reflects the subject matter about a broken system that is capitalism that a working single mother who can barely afford groceries for the week, and dares calls the act ‘sin’ to feed the broken system. It’s by far the most ‘hardest’ material on the album, by mainstream standards, and like the opener on The Woods, it’s a test to see if you are worthy to listen to the rest of the album.