Sleater-Kinney Succeed in People-Pleasing on 'Path of Wellness'
Published Jun 08, 2021When Sleater-Kinney joined forces with St. Vincent to create their sleek, heavily stylized The Center Won't Hold, feathers were promptly ruffled throughout the indie rock world. Longtime fans expressed their disappointment in the band's new direction, longtime drummer Janet Weiss departed the band in response, and the album proved to be significantly less popular than 2015's No Cities to Love (according to Billboard charts and streaming services). But critics had a completely different take on the 2019 record, recognizing the well-crafted and sharply-written songs found at the LP's core.
Their first release recoded as a duo in the band's 26-year career (and first without Weiss since 1996's Call the Doctor), Path of Wellness, feels like it's been crafted to allow all camps to meet squarely in the middle. Sleater-Kinney's latest stands as the band's most amiable and good-natured release, liberally blending layered keyboards and forward-pounding beats (as demonstrated on the Tune-Yards-esque title track) with anthemic vocals and crunchy guitars (featured most prominently on the ever-building "Favorite Neighbor").
After a few listens, it becomes clear that Path of Wellness works best when viewed in the scope as being the inverse of its predecessor. The Center Won't Hold featured a strong set of songs hampered by starchy production, while this new album's diverse, adventurous and sturdy structures help enhance a collection of songs that could have otherwise sounded limp and inconspicuous.
As the first wholly self-produced Sleater-Kinney record, beefy tracks like "High in the Grass" and "Method" would have benefitted from a third-party in the studio to help them tighten up their slightly meandering melodies. But, as recorded with a number of Portland musicians (along with powerhouse Freezing Cold drummer, Angie Boylan) Path of Wellness is really all about where the duo take their songs rather than where they start: "Worry with You" is incredibly funky, making for Sleater-Kinney's most danceable song to date; "Shadow Town" features an excellent pulsating guitar line that goes perfectly in tandem with the duo's sharp and cutting verses; and "Down the Line" is a complete classic rock banger, melding Deep Purple-nodding noodling with a jubilant chorus that slightly borrows from Led Zeppelin's 1973 hit "Dancing Days."
Combining the uncontaminated brawn of 2005's The Woods with the hip indie sensibilities of their early LPs, Sleater-Kinney have finally relieved their all-encompassing crowd-pleaser with the sonically pleasing Path of Wellness. (Mom + Pop)