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Lonely at the top

It ain’t easy being indie in a bubblegum world By John Sanchez

Five years after its debut, the female trio Sleater-Kinney stands as the most prominent entity in the waning world of indie rock. Judging by the band’s new album, All Hands on the Bad One, it’s not a comfortable position. Choosing to remain on the independent Kill Rock Stars label rather than sullying itself with the corporate stink of the major labels, Sleater-Kinney is now taking head-on the blows due to artists who want to maintain their ideals and their success at the same time. Lack of money’s a burden, and so are critics and fans, not to mention self-doubt; on “Ballad of a Ladyman” singer-guitarist Corin Tucker considers that she could become like the “girls who are soft for / boys who are fearful of getting an earful” but concludes she’d rather be a “ladyman.” Never less than good musicians, Sleater-Kinney has honed its craft so much that its tightly controlled playing now proclaims its passion for autonomy even more than the lyrics, which are at times repetitive and defensive.

All Hands deftly touches on significant topics beyond the band itself, such as eating disorders and the evil of TV’s “reality” programming. But the album’s real revelation is its simplest one: “The Swimmer” is a portrait of a woman athlete so devoted to her sport that she feels more at home in the ocean than on land. Obviously, the swimmer and the band have something in common. In this gorgeous song Sleater-Kinney shares the joy and the beauty that make a singular vision worth pursuing.

Sanchez also writes for Time Out New York, Index, and Latingirl.