When the haze from the dry ice and flashpots finally lifts, and the boy bands, girl singers, and tortured tattoo exhibits that shifted so many units at the turn of the millennium are revealed as the 1910 Fruitgum Company of their day, history will have to rewrite itself in a fashion that focuses on the music that mattered. With each album, Sleater-Kinney continues to assure its place in that yet-to-be-written canon by turning out music of such potency that, by comparison, most other bands don't seem to be trying. The new One Beat continues that trend, picking up the loose threads of 2000's All Hands On The Bad One and using them to stitch together raw rock and a growing fondness for on-a-budget pop frills. Sleater-Kinney has never soft-pedaled its politics, but it's always made its music into its loudest message. That may explain why "Step Aside," a call to arms that advises listeners to "shake a tail for peace and love," is the closest the band has come to a recorded manifesto; the song acknowledges that "headlines make me want to cry," while circling back to the need to purge it all with rock 'n' roll. "Step Aside" captures much of what makes One Beat, and Sleater-Kinney, sound so vital: It matches singer Corin Tucker's bottled-lightning voice to Carrie Brownstein's low-key vocal counterpoint, pairs their guitars with Janet Weiss' crunching beat, and throws in the unexpected touch of a horn flourish for good measure. The song, like most of One Beat, also reflects its era. Like a distant reflection of Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, "Far Away" offers a personal account of Sept. 11 and the frightening rush of emotion experienced by those who could do nothing but watch the TV and stay at home. "Combat Rock" becomes its sequel, when those emotions give way to "red white blue hot pants" and thoughts like "Since when is skepticism un-American?" One Beat's only potential problem lies in the anticipation it inspires. For several albums now, Sleater-Kinney has shown eagerness to experiment, and it seems to be pounding at a wall, getting ever closer to the recording that will break it down. One Beat isn't quite it, but it makes a glorious noise in the process.
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