Review Summary: Cock-rock by the cockless.
There are way too many hyphens in this note. And I'm pretty sure I used "quixotic" wrong. And all my formatting got lost in the copy & paste. And I totally changed tense at some point. And you can't start sentences with "and." I don't care, the ideas are all there.
The Woods - Sleater-Kinney
Oh cock rock, is there anything you can't do? You give pubescent boys the confidence in their pecker to call anyone different from them "gay" while paradoxically allowing these same boys to fawn over Robert Plant's homoerotic-to-the-max moans in "Whole Lotta Love." You made big hair and tight pants acceptable for self-respecting men. You made Steven ***ing Tyler sexy, for Christ's sake! Unfortunately, the one hurdle you were unable to leap is that of intelligent songwriting (probably because you were too busy nailing groupies, right?). So enter Sleater-Kinney, the now-defunct, all cock-less, LGBT-friendly punk trio from Olympia. They were without a doubt the band least likely to make a cock rock album, much less fulfill the genre's quixotic journey to be taken seriously as music. But this is exactly what they did with 2005's The Woods.
Sleater-Kinney had been critical darlings ever since Dig Me Out came out eight years earlier. Dig's mix of bass-less guitar interplay, intertwined vocals, and a recently published article in Spin detailing a brief relationship between band founders Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein made them a band to keep tabs on in underground music. Tucker and Brownstein followed that album up with three more that pretty much followed the exact same formula laid down by Dig Me Out.
The Woods kicked the teeth out of Sleater's formula and found the band fully embracing cock rock. From the feedback-laden riff that opens the album on "The Fox" to the eleven-minute wankfest that is "Let's Call It Love" Sleater largely drops the guitar interplay they thrived on in favor of colossal, pounding riffs. However, that is not to say the band completely abandons their trademark guitar sound, rather the old sound is usually dressed up with some scuzzy fuzz. In fact, an argument could be made that this is SK's most diverse album in terms of guitar sounds. There is, of course, the aforementioned loud-as-*** scuzz-fuzz tone, but there are also washes of noise, clean interplay, and even the bouncy dual-guitar power chord thingie so many indie bands are into today - and those are all in one track (the stunning "What's Mine Is Yours). The Woods marks not only a departure in guitar sounds, but also in drums. Janet Weiss, the band's longtime drummer, was always a solid backbeat for Sleater-Kinney's guitar-driven music, but on this album she has turned into a sheer force of nature, Keith Moon reincarnated, and the Queen of Fills. Hyperbole aside, Weiss clearly realized that the new, more aggressive guitars of Tucker and Brownstein needed more oomph behind them in order to achieve the maximum visceral impact - and oomph Weiss brings (in spades, even!). Musically, The Woods was a step forward for SK, merging their intricate guitar lines with the more muscular sounds of hard rock.
Of course, no proper cock rock album is complete without vocals, and this is where Sleater totally eclipses its heavy metal touchstones on this album. Corin Tucker's voice was always impressive, but here it blows alway anything Zeppelin could ever hope to achieve. It is difficult to describe the exact timbre of her voice, but think of a cross between a female opera singer, a yodeler (in a good way, honest!), and Ann Wilson from Heart. Her voice is so loud I would be willing to bet that she didn't need to be mixed louder than the rest of the band during the final mixing. She oozes sexual confidence on every line she sings and has a range that would put any male vocalist to shame. Of course, as any listener of power metal knows, a powerful voice can be taxing on the listener over the course of an entire album. Thankfully, Sleater-Kinney also boasts an able singer in Carrie Brownstein, who in addition to harmonizing perfectly with Tucker, can easy carry a song in her own right. Brownstein is also an above average screamer, further varying SK's vocal assault.
The Woods is Sleater-Kinney's finest performance, hands down. No other band could have taken a genre so diametrically opposed to their sound and not only made an album in that style, but also incorporated it into their signature sound so seamlessly. [Fanboy Warning:] These girls totally need to get back together.