All it took was my older, much cooler cousin talking about this all-girl punk band called Sleater-Kinney, and how he thought they were taking an unnecessary amount of criticism due to their gender, and I was hooked. A pathetic, sexually frustrated 16-year old like myself was naturally drawn to any girl who exhibited the same tendencies as me, so I knew I needed to track this band down. Surprisingly, I found a copy of Dig Me Out at my local library, so I snapped it up for free and took it back to my basement room where I played it loud (but not loud enough that my parents got mad at me, because I was a respectful son).
Right away, I felt ashamed that I had been thinking of a band based solely on the possibility of them being hot girls, and hadn’t considered what they might sound like. “Punk” probably wasn’t the most fitting description, but what could you call it? First of all, that voice. Corin Tucker was unlike any vocalist I had ever heard or have heard since. The guitars buzzed and clanged. But was it punk? Would Tim Armstrong have approved?
It didn’t matter what Uncle Tim thought, because I fell hard for the music of Sleater-Kinney, and I’m grateful to have started with Dig Me Out, as it was clearly the sound of a band hitting their stride and becoming the rock ’n’ roll beast they always knew they could be. A large part of this can be attributed to the addition of Janet Weiss on drums, a few years older than Tucker and Carrie Brownstein and clearly possessing the ability to fill in for the band’s lack of a bass guitar with booming snare hits and clever fills. It’s also the record where Sleater-Kinney shed a little bit of their aggressively feminist skin, favoring instead a more intellectually subtle approach to their still vital ideas. Instead of the occasional ear-piercing screams that seemed out of place on their previous two records, Tucker uses her one-of-a-kind voice to its fullest ability by singing with stark confidence, especially on the title track and the final exorcism-like section of “Turn It On.” The vital feminism is still there, as on “Little Babies,” but Tucker is able to coolly take on the persona of a forgotten housewife when she describes how she “peeled potatoes / set the table and washed the floor,” taking a female expectation and attacking it without being too blunt.
The highs and lows of Dig Me Out are higher than on any previous Sleater-Kinney record, as they somehow newly possessed the ability to rock harder than they had before, while also taking the mood down to new levels of quiet and contemplation. “Buy Her Candy” doesn’t even have drums, just plaintive guitars from Tucker and Brownstein as Tucker imagines the girl everyone wishes to be and wants to be with. Closing track “Jenny” is darker, but still low key and reserved until the roaring ending where they’re slamming with bruising force. And the saddest song on the record, “One More Hour,” paints such an evocative picture of bittersweet conclusion that despite not being their most well known song, they later chose it as the closer for their final show in 2006.
Sleater-Kinney has a discography that leaves much open to discussion and opinion among their fans, since the band always tried something slightly new but still stuck to a winning formula. Really, any of their records could conceivably be someone’s favorite. With S-K being one of my favorite bands of all time, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to decide which one is their undisputed best, but I know which one is my sentimental pick, and that will always be Dig Me Out. The record represents maturity and growth, both musically and emotionally, both qualities that I desperately needed as an awkward 16-year old, and I’m sure many other teenagers got that very same fulfillment from these songs.