Sleater-Kinney - The Hot Rock (retro review) (Cover Artwork)


The Hot Rock (retro review) (1999)

Kill Rock stars

Although not one of their most revered projects, The Hot Rock is arguably the most important release in Sleater-Kinney’s discography. For one thing, it was a complete embrace of indie rock, with the fiery punk attitude of their first three albums all but dissipated. The Hot Rock is quite moody, with lots of obvious post-punk and Midwest emo influence. Corin and Carrie’s guitars shimmer, and focus more on mathy riffs and washed out tremolos than power chords.

A significant deviation from the band’s old work is the interplay of the guitars and vocals (something that became one of the band’s most defining features). Corin and Carrie often fight for space, making the songs feel claustrophobic. You would never tell from the album’s abstract lyrics, but the two had just been through a romantic breakup (something that wouldn’t be public knowledge until over a decade later). You can certainly feel that angst in the performances.

Although I’m making this album sound pretty dour, there are moments of pure dance-punk bliss. The off-kilter time signature of “Burn, Don’t Freeze” and dueling vocals on “Banned From the End of the World” will be stuck in your head from a first listen. “A Quarter to Three” even throws harmonica into the mix for added catchiness.

No discussion of The Hot Rock can be complete, however, without “Get Up”. Carrie’s spoken-word delivery and low-end guitarwork has an extremely potent Kim Gordon influence (not surprising given her immense influence on the riot grrl scene S-K originated from). The song’s chord progression also has a Midwest emo feel to it, only further rounding it out (fun fact: Sunny Day Real Estate’s Jeremy Enigk taught Carrie Brownstein how to play guitar). The song blew my mind on a first listen, and still remains one of my top 5 favorite songs from the band’s formidable discography.

It feels a little awkward to discuss given recent events, but the one thing that really rounds the record out is Janet Weiss. Other than the peppy “One Song for You,” her drumming is pretty mellow compared to Dig Me Out, her debut with the band. However, this album really made me appreciate her as the anchor to S-K’s sound. To bring it back to Sonic Youth for a second, Steve Shelley often gets underappreciated as the lone source of rhythm and cadence to reel in the noisy freak-outs of his former bandmates. Arguably, Janet had it even tougher than him, as she didn’t even have a bass player to help ease the burden. With a less skilled drummer, The Hot Rock could have been a mess of discordant riffs and vibrato.

The Hot Rock was the first Sleater-Kinney album to chart on Billboard, and really, I think that’s an indicator that it was the beginning of the a new era for the band. While The Woods and One Beat tend to get more recognition, there’s no way we would have them without this album.