The 15 Best Sleater-Kinney Songs

Music Lists Sleater-Kinney
The 15 Best Sleater-Kinney Songs

Sleater-Kinney have been stamped “the best band in the world” by Esquire, the “best rock band on the planet” by Vice and, most recently, “more inclined than ever to utilize the studio as an instrument,” by our own Zach Schonfield in his review of the band’s daring ninth album, The Center Won’t Hold (out this Friday on Mom + Pop). The new record finds the band taking more chances than ever. Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss (who has since departed the band) recruited St. Vincent’s Annie Clark to produce the record, and the four women made for an interesting meeting of the minds, one that led to one of the boldest rock records of the year.

But Sleater-Kinney have been kicking ass for 25 years. There’s nothing surprising about them releasing a masterpiece—they’ve done it many times before. Whether they’re punks or riot grrrls or just rockstars in your mind, it’s not an exaggeration to claim Sleater-Kinney are one of the best indie rock bands to have ever existed. In honor of their new record and a quarter-century of band-hood, we dove deep into their discography and chose their most fevered, emboldened, incredible songs. Here are our staff’s 15 favorite S-K songs.

15. “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”

Never has thrashing sounded so cheeky. There’s a smart wave of satire that runs through this S-K classic, which tackles pop culture, indie culture and how the two often overlap. Forget the male rockstars—S-K are your idols now. “I wanna be your Joey Ramone / Pictures of me on your bedroom door,” the first chorus goes. Then Ramone becomes Thurston Moore, and the song is not only an anti-idolization anthem for mainstream rock ‘n’ roll, but for the subculture, too. This song dispelled any doubts listeners may have had about Sleater-Kinney and maybe riot grrrl in general. These women weren’t just here to make noise—they were here to change the narrative. —Ellen Johnson

14. “Hurry On Home”

“Hurry On Home,” the first single from The Center Won’t Hold, only arrived this past May, but it already feels like a classic. In fact, it felt like a classic the first time we heard it. It pairs Sleater-Kinney’s classic raw guitars and untarnished vocals with distorted mics, huge, layered choruses, intense synths and driving instrumentation. And there through it all is that brash, carefree energy we’ve come to expect from this band’s lyrics: “You know I’m Unfuckable / Unlovable / Unlistenable / Unwatchable.” It’s confrontational in an entirely new way thanks to Annie Clark’s production instincts, which certainly contributed to this song’s massive new sound. —Ellen Johnson

13. “God Is A Number”

This is a perfect Sleater-Kinney cut because it’s both catchy and out-of-reach, grand and concise, alarming and beautiful. It conveys frustration with an increasingly technology-reliant society, but it expresses that disbelief and annoyance with a healthy dose of soul: “Knock on every door, programmed to receive,” Tucker sings. “Answer my communication, display, command, retreat / Looking for some kind of heart inside this great machine.” Two decades after The Hot Rock release, this song probably lends itself to more questions than answers, but it remains a classic examination of modern insanity. —Ellen Johnson

12. “The Drama You’ve Been Craving”

Sleater-Kinney have mastered the art of on-edge rock ‘n’ roll. Their nimble guitar work and Tucker and Brownstein’s vocal ping-ponging on “The Drama You’ve Been Craving” create the perfect storm of precariousness and exhilaration. With a taut, supercharged energy and lyrics about the daily grind and entrapment, it’s literally impossible not to feel this song pumping in your chest, especially when Tucker delivers the peppy line: “All the bridges gonna burn gonna fall down / Burn it down it’s so hot it’s so hot hot.” —Lizzie Manno

11. “Dance Song ‘97”

While pure, raw feelings usually rule on Dig Me Out, “Dance Song ‘97” is a rare instance in the Sleater-Kinney catalogue as a whole where passion overtakes sense. Whirring synth and effects bounce around this song’s tense three minutes, which shake with fury and a little lust. “If you’re feeling way too much,” Brownstein wails. “But inside you can’t stop / Desire, she eats you up.” And the title isn’t misleading, either: It’s a groovy tune, worthy of a twist or two. -Ellen Johnson

10. “Words and Guitar”

“Words and Guitar” is both an earnest manifesto and a display of ironic postmodernism. With their own ideas of punk taken to heart, S-K describe how music has been a vehicle for positivity in their lives, and in true riot grrrl spirit, they don’t feel bad for reaping the personal benefits, being ambitious or taking up space. Regardless of how you interpret the song, it’s got a steamy vigor, underpinned by Tucker’s fluttering vocals, and a snappy melodic rock structure that just keeps on giving. What Sleater-Kinney can accomplish in two minutes is frankly staggering. —Lizzie Manno

9. “Male Model”

To any man who resisted Sleater-Kinney’s rise in rock ‘n’ roll, there’s a clear message in “Male Model”: “You don’t own the situation, honey / You don’t own the stage / We’re here to join the conversation / And we’re here to raise the stakes.” By the start of the 21st century, when S-K released their fifth studio album All Hands on the Bad One in 2000, they’d been dealing with music industry malarkey and asshole musician dudes for years, and they just don’t care anymore. “I’m so sick of tests,” Brownstein screams. “Go ahead and flunk my ass!” The riotous song harbors a line that would only become more true over time as the band continued to control rock discourse: “It’s time for a new rock ‘n’ roll age,” one where women have a voice and a platform. Thankfully, we’re still living it. —Ellen Johnson

8. “A New Wave”

Following the band’s decade-long hiatus, “A New Wave” feels like one of Sleater-Kinney’s statements of principle on No Cities to Love, an acknowledgement of the movements that have helped give the band exposure in the past, but a simultaneous rejection that they remain bound to any of the expectations or conventions of those movements in the next phase of their careers. There’s some existential grappling here, as in the lines “Every day I throw a little party / But a fit would be more fitting / And every time I climb a little higher / Should I leap or go on living?” which is probably to be expected when one returns to a musical project with another 10 years of age and experience, but there’s also a sense of exuberance and excitement to throw off the shackles of the past. Brownstein speaks in the song of “leaving nothing” behind for those who would seek to deconstruct Sleater-Kinney, while also standing defiant in her proclamation that “no outline will ever hold us.” The song makes for a bit of an odd pairing with the dancing Belcher children of TV’s Bob’s Burgers, as seen in the official music video for “A New Wave,” but as it goes on, the sight of little Louise determinedly punching the air to the beat of “I am raw material / make me plastic / make me fuel” seems oddly fitting. Tina Belcher might not exactly fit the mold of your prototypical riot grrrl, but perhaps it’s exactly what she’ll grow into after a dip into Sleater-Kinney’s deeper waters. —Jim Vorel

7. “Hot Rock”

Both a clever ode to a 1972 Robert Redford film and the title track from Sleater-Kinney’s fourth studio album, “Hot Rock” is another example of sonic subtlety working double-time in the band’s catalogue. S-K just don’t need much to make a song that will absolutely knock you off your feet. Here it’s just a little extra percussion, a winding guitar pattern and the interplay of Tucker and Brownstein’s voices (which have always been their most powerful instruments). A tale of diamond thieves and a “crafty” crime scene becomes a desperate longing for “a love that’s true”—an endeavor that’s far more difficult than a jewel heist. —Ellen Johnson

6. “A Quarter to Three”

This song sounds like nothing else in the Sleater-Kinney catalogue. It’s sonically more modest and melodic than most of the jarring punk that had defined their music up to the point of The Hot Rock’s release in 1999, but the lyrics are just as honest and lacking in bullshit. Tucker sings that the fight for understanding is like “goin’ to bed at a quarter to three, finally tired, finally empty.” It’s quite possible that the number three has never been used to stir up so much emotion. And it’s also quite possible that a no-frills guitar riff, some “ooh-ahh” backing vocals and a simple marching drum beat have never worked together so marvelously. —Ellen Johnson

5. “Jumpers”

This song is one of the best examples of a Corin/Carrie vocal stack. They open “Jumpers” in unison, singing “I spend the afternoon in cars / I sit in traffic jams for hours / Don’t push me, I am not OK.” There’s something so powerful about their blunt declaration of misery: I am not OK. The story embodies a potentially suicidal character who’s ready to fling themselves from the “Golden Gate” Bridge, but Brownstein’s and Tucker’s vocal build-up makes it feel more like a pat-on-the-shoulder than a sensationalizing of the situation. They bring their voices together again on the searing outro, singing “Four seconds was the longest wait” over and over, until the wailing guitars and subtle electro-beats slowly fade to nothing. —Ellen Johnson

4. “Entertain”

“Entertain” is as foreboding as it gets. The breakneck cut from the band’s Sub Pop debut spends four minutes building aggressive, grating guitars and crashing cymbals into sheer catastrophic bliss. Janet is working for it, and Carrie is mad as hell, too: backed by Corin’s scorching chorus, she screams of the perils of landfill indie and capitalizing off of cheap nostalgia in perhaps the best display of her vocals in her band’s entire discography: “You come around looking 1984 / You’re such a bore, 1984 / Nostalgia, you’re using it like a whore!” Lore says Carrie is seething about Interpol, but you can fill in the blank. —Savannah Sicurella

3. “Dig Me Out”

Both the title track and opening number from S-K’s classic 1997 album, “Dig Me Out” is equal parts furious and calculated. Brownstein’s guitar thrashes from the get-go, and screamed lines like “Get into your sores / Get into your things / Do you get nervous / Watching me bleed?” convey a reckless disregard for comfort. “Dig Me Out” is a plea and protest. The call “Dig me” works like the phrase “Get me”—”out of this mess,” “out of my head,” “out of my body,” “out of my skin,” away from all of this chaos. The song was also quite a way for drummer Janet Weiss to make her entrance. Dig Me Out was the first album she drummed for S-K in full, and its first track, with Weiss’ relentless pounding and keyed-in intensity, proved she wasn’t here to mess around. —Ellen Johnson

2. “Modern Girl”

“Modern Girl” wraps everything you love about Sleater-Kinney into one giant, unwieldy, beautiful rant. As Brownstein recently said in a Guardian interview, “We’ve been addressing the #MeToo movement and shitty patriarchal systems of injustice and subjugation since 1995.” A stunning cut from their 2005 live-tracked album The Woods, “Modern Girl” is #MeToo before #MeToo. Women have always been angry, and Sleater-Kinney have consistently found ways to channel that rage into irony and melody. Here, it’s a takedown of the media and modern-day strife set to the tune of a lilting harmonica and unforgettable riff. As the song nears its end, some of the sass and sarcasm melts away, leaving room for a nugget of truth: “Anger makes me a modern girl / Took my money, I couldn’t buy nothin’ / I’m sick of this brave new world.” —Ellen Johnson

1. “One More Hour”

Here, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein hang it all out to dry: the ups and downs of their relationship, the jealousy, the attraction, the breakdown. As Brownstein would later emphasize in her memoir Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, Tucker wrote the lyrics as a catalog of their couple-hood and the feelings surrounding it. Looking back, they “both laughed,” Brownstein wrote. But there’s no laughing in the song—just angst, and maybe a little release. But even if removed from the discourse and the drama, this song is an emotional masterpiece. It’s springy and tart, but might still leave you with an overall melancholy aftertaste. Letting go is never easy, after all. —Ellen Johnson

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