The most exciting music news of the year came on October 19 when Sleater-Kinney, on hiatus since 2006, announced their reunion with a terrific new single, “Bury Our Friends.” With an album due in January and a tour starting in February, they’ve given their fans plenty to anticipate in the early months of 2015.
They couldn’t have picked a better year to announce their return, either. A new Sleater-Kinney single alone would make 2014 the best year for riot grrrl music since 2005, when the band released their highly acclaimed The Woods. Even without the single, though, this was still an extraordinary year for women in punk rock, starting as early as January 7, when Seattle supergroup Childbirth self-released an EP entitled It’s a Girl!
Childbirth is made up of three women from other Seattle bands: Julia Shapiro from Chastity Belt on guitar/vocals, Stacy Peck from Pony Time on bass/vocals, and Bree McKenna from Tacocat on drums. With the name Childbirth, an EP called It’s a Girl!, and song titles like “Sister Wives,” “Crossbitch,” and “Menopause,” they let you know what you’re getting into before you even listen to a note. Men who get queasy even hearing about periods need not apply.
Ultimately, though, they’re catchy enough, as well as funny enough that even those insecure enough to be offended by a song called “I Only Fucked You as a Joke” may have a good time. Their finest track is “How Do Girls Even Do It,” about straight people’s bizarre confusion and fascination at the very idea of lesbian sex.
On February 25, Tacocat’s NVM was released. Their sound is similar to the noisy surf rock of Best Coast and Wavves, but with more of a pop punk edge, while their lyrics cover a variety of feminist themes—check out “Crimson Wave,” about the menstrual cycle, or the anti-catcalling song “Hey Girl.” These themes are presented with a similar sense of humor to Childbirth, and their sound is more inviting. In fact, Tacocat’s absurd name, like Diarrhea Planet’s (remember them?), manages to simultaneously bring them attention and separate them from the too common self-seriousness of many pop punk bands. Also, let’s be real, who doesn’t love tacos and cats? Anti-feminists, that’s who.
March 18 brought us two women in punk albums, Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes to Love and The Coathangers’ Suck My Shirt.
Perfect Pussy is a group I’ve been trying to get the appeal of since they released their demo I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling last year. The muddy production and lack of hooks made me wonder what I was missing, but since it was a demo, I figured their sound would improve when they recorded their first official album. Say Yes to Love, however, doesn’t show improved production. It’s as muddy as the demo, with Meredith Graves’ voice drowned out by overly-distorted guitars. These qualities aren’t inherently bad, but there’s no character to their noise. Rather than enhance their songwriting, the sound merely hides it, and the lyrics are worth hearing. Say Yes to Love is my least favorite punk record I’ve heard this year, but it’s received more attention and acclaim than It’s a Girl!, NVM, and many others I’ll get to.
The Coathangers aren’t a new group. They formed in 2006 and hit their peak with 2009’s marvelous Scramble. Suck My Shirt is not at that level, but it’s not bad, just plain, especially for a band called The Coathangers (which is a reference to exactly what you think it’s a reference to). Still, it is likely their strongest collection next to Scramble.
Meanwhile, the self-titled debut from Cincinnati band Tweens, released on April 8, is the real deal. Referring to themselves as trash pop, Tweens mix girl group melodies with punk music, a sound that isn’t particularly new—New York Dolls did the same thing in the early ‘70s—but that the band manages to make their own. Heightened by Bridget Battle’s distinctive vocals, their album is endlessly fun and listenable, but the lyrics are often devastating, making it a substantial experience on numerous levels. My personal favorite song is actually the bonus track, a cover of The Teardrops’ 1965 single “I’m Gonna Steal Your Boyfriend,” which is such an effective closer that I can’t imagine hearing the album without it.
There have been other memorable records by female-fronted punk groups this year. Speedy Ortiz released a new EP, Real Hair, in February. It’s a nice short listen (only four tracks) but, as with everything by Speedy Ortiz, don’t expect to remember it a week later. On April 28, Distillers frontwoman Brody Dalle released her solo debut, Diploid Love, which features songs ranging from some of the best work she’s ever done to mere mediocrity. There’s not much to say about White Lung’s June release Deep Fantasy other than they’re slowly improving.
October 7 brought arguably the biggest women in punk album of the year in Rips, the debut release from Ex Hex, Mary Timony’s new band. Timony has been a prominent member of the independent music scene since the early ‘90s and has played in numerous bands, notably performing alongside Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss in the acclaimed band Wild Flag. Rips is easily the best thing she has ever released, including Wild Flag’s self-titled debut. The group has the catchiest power pop sound since Fountains of Wayne, and there’s seldom an unmemorable song.
Less than two weeks later, in the days leading up to Sleater-Kinney’s new box set Start Together, their first new single in nearly a decade was released. “Bury Our Friends” is a miraculous song, showing the band as comfortable with each other as ever. Since they went on hiatus, Brownstein and Weiss have been in Wild Flag, Weiss has drummed with everyone from the Shins to Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks to her own band Quasi, and Corin Tucker started the Corin Tucker Band. The three of them bring their own style to every group they perform in, but magic happens as soon as they enter a room together, as should happen with any great band.
The excitement of a new Sleater-Kinney single, as well as a future album and tour should make any fan run back to their discography and listen in anticipation. But when Start Together was released on October 24, Pitchfork rated all of the Sleater-Kinney albums. The highest rating: The Woods, with a 9.4.
In contrast, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy received a perfect 10 upon release. Even Yeezus received a 9.5. Meanwhile, the best female band of all time, acknowledged by several critics as one of the all-time greats, can’t receive more than a 9.4, even with all the years their records have had to grow.
It’s a sad fact that women in the music industry are not even close to being as respected as the men. Whether they write songs about their personal lives or just fun songs to dance to, people will accuse their work of lacking substance, for often contradictory reasons.
I always thought Sleater-Kinney was different. I thought they’d risen above the sexist world of music journalism to become a certified classic band, on the same level as the Pavements and Nirvanas of the world.
But, if they can’t get a 10, is there any hope? And if Yeezy were a woman, would she still be Yeezus?