There was supposed to be another band that blazed onto the music scene through the sacred path that Sleater-Kinney had established. A band that would thunder under the stage lights, kicking microphones and blowing guitar amplifiers, ready to burst with a feminist fury that converted every angry teenager into a true believer in the ethos of rock and roll. Instead, we were left with a Sleater-Kinney-shaped black hole in our musical cosmos for a decade. Like Nirvana, The Clash and Joy Division before them, Sleater-Kinney was a band so singular in force that no other artist could possibly come close to replicating who they were.
Emerging from the D.I.Y. Riot Grrrl movement in the Pacific Northwest—a particularly fertile breeding ground for cutting edge underground music—Sleater-Kinney was founded by Corin Tucker of Heavens to Betsy and Carrie Brownstein of Excuse 17. Initially just a side project, the band’s first two albums, 1995’s Sleater-Kinney and 1996’s Call the Doctor quickly put them at the forefront of the indie music scene. However, they wouldn’t become America’s last great punk band until 1997 with their seminal third album, Dig Me Out.
This was the album where Sleater-Kinney really became Sleater-Kinney. This solidification of the band’s identity was mostly due to the addition of Janet Weiss, the band’s longest serving drummer who joined right before recording Dig Me Out. The introduction of Weiss’ relentless and dynamic drumming grounded the band’s sound, making it more complete and powerful. Due to the lack of bass guitar, Weiss occupies a unique space in Sleater-Kinney’s sonic landscape. She carries the rhythm with the precision of a marching soldier, while also tastefully fleshing out the melody with memorable drum fills. As Brownstein described in her memoir, Weiss was “able to see the bigger picture, translating the secret handshake into a more universal greeting.”
Sleater-Kinney tackles a lot of issues on Dig Me Out, covering breakups, the desire for freedom, gender stereotypes and more. The album opens with Brownstein’s turbocharged, angular guitar riff on the title track. Weiss blows in with her snare, and beefs up Brownstein’s riff with her shifting tom fills. “Dig me out! / Dig me in! / Outta this mess, baby / Outta my head,” Tuckers hollers. Tucker’s voice is unapologetically abrasive, violent enough to crumble concrete, but also vulnerable. Tucker’s vocals, in addition to her punctual songwriting, gives Sleater-Kinney a raw sense of vitality and urgency. This is especially true on the track “One More Hour.” The song is stark and emotional, enhanced by Brownstein’s sparse, idiosyncratic guitar lines. Its lyrics describe a couple staring down the last few seconds of a relationship, inspired by Tucker and Brownstein’s own breakup. They combat each other throughout the song, their guitar lines just barely working together. As Tucker strains her voice and pushes at the boundaries of her range, Brownstein counters her with a rational mid-range drone. It’s as if the listener is experiencing a battle between the heart and the mind, as both struggle for dominance over the speaker’s emotions. Breakup songs don’t get any better than this.
That being said, Sleater-Kinney still manages to have fun, even when they’re bitter and tired. “Words and Guitar” is as intense and catchy as any classic Ramones anthem. “Little Babies” is about breaking the role of the maternal caretaker, and the subject is tackled with a mixture of anxiety, fervor and satire. The song’s hook is a sarcasm-drenched string of gibberish. “Dum dum dee dee dee dum dum dee dum doo / All the little babies go unh unh I want to,” Tucker and Brownstein chant in unison, deliberately toying with our intelligence.
Sleater-Kinney shouldn’t just be known as a “female rock band.” Their music extends beyond those superficial boundaries. With Dig Me Out, and all the other masterpieces they would eventually go on to make, Sleater-Kinney became legends in the world of rock music, earning apt comparisons to Led Zeppelin and The Who instead of Joan Jett or Blondie. Dig Me Out’s album cover even pays homage to The Kinks’ The Kinks Kontroversy. Sleater-Kinney demands to be respected as a great classic rock band, and rightfully so. They spoke to the lives of people obscured by the world. More specifically, they were women who spoke directly to other women. Sleater-Kinney waged a war for the right to proudly possess one’s own identity, pulling marginalized groups into the spotlight. Their songs highlighted what it meant to be female, to be queer, to be disgusted by America, to be alive, to dance with love and to resist death. Sleater-Kinney didn’t just mean something, they meant everything. A