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THE WOODS  •  Sleater-Kinney

The Seattle-based trio Sleater-Kinney has been energetically churning up sound waves and wrestling them into records for a decade, but never with more passion--or success, musically speaking--than on their newest album, The Woods. The title is apt: it evokes the mythic journey a hero/heroine must take into the darkness to come out transformed, and that's exactly what S-K has done with this album. Known and loved for their lean, accessible, punk-tinged rock, they've entered into an altogether darker, denser, and, yes, scarier place with The Woods. Producer Dave Fridman, by all accounts, pushed the three women to new musical limits and wrung every ounce of emotional expression from them to infuse the songs with an excitement and edge that is palpable from the first power chord.

The Woods kicks off with a cautionary fable in song-form, "The Fox", further reinforcing the Grimm angle. But this isn't your grandmother's woods. There are intense, distorted guitars behind every tree, primal drums practically busting out of the ground under your feet and a siren-cum-banshee woos you--then, in later songs, practically tears your head off with her raw power. The second song, "Wilderness," introduces psychedelic moments which explode into maturity in "What's Mine Is Yours" in a guitar solo that jumps off a cliff, leaving the ground of the band, twisting in the empty air. It's vicarious exhilaration. There is a gentler side to the album in the form of songs like "Modern Girl." Gentle with teeth. Sharp ones. The sweetness of the guitar lines and melody have a wryly mocking feel and the refrain "My whole life / looked like a picture / of a sunny day" is belied by a ghostly distortion growing behind it.

In among the raging and darkness, there is great subtlety that was arguably missing, or at least undeveloped, in S-K's earlier records. The fact that the band consists of two electric guitars and drums has had both its charms and its limitations in the past. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker use their guitars in a dialogue that has continued to evolve from the call and response moves of their early albums. On The Woods, their lines weave and meld in a way that is half dialogue, half alchemical meltdown. Janet Weiss's drums, too, seem to have undergone a shift. Always strong, on this album she exhibits an expanded mix of range and power. Brownstein's and Tucker's intense vocals are better supported by the new depth of sound and the result of these transformations is much richer, more complex and ultimately satisfying.

Kudos to Dave Fridman for pushing this amply talented trio into the woods, and kudos to Sleater-Kinney for walking that twisted path and emerging a changed band. If you like your rock hard and raw, you'll like the take-no-prisoners approach S-K employs on The Woods. If you like your music sophisticated and well thought-out, you'll appreciate the nuanced arrangements and wide emotional palette they explore. Either way, The Woods is a compelling trip through deep and dangerous places--and one well worth taking. • Judith Edelman

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thanks justina (whatawaytodie.com)

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