Retrospective: Sleater-Kinney – “Dig Me Out” (1997)

3 Jun

“Dig Me Out” by Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney’s music has a very manic edge to it. Verses and bridges are slow, terrorizing builds that explode into psychotic climaxes of choruses where screamed declarations and pounding drums are layered over driving guitar harmonies. 1997’s “Dig Me Out,” their third and most seminal album, personifies this mania more than any other record the iconic riot grrrl trio has put out. The savvy sophistication that is heard on later albums – the critically acclaimed “One Beat,” for example – isn’t there yet, but neither is the lumbering experimentalism that characterizes Sleater-Kinney’s earlier recordings. On “Dig Me Out,” the band is in control, but you get the feeling that it’s only because they want to be.

Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein’s vocals are interlocking parts that make up a sonic puzzle, one that can only really be described as discordant harmony. Listening to them together is an unnerving, if unparalleled experience that sets ablaze tracks like the angst ridden “All the Drama You’ve Been Craving” and the euphoric “Words and Guitar.”

But it is the more reserved tracks where “Dig Me Out” is at its most beautifully cathartic. “Dance Song ‘97” is a tribute to confused infatuation with a charmingly kitschy musical aesthetic and some of the most memorable guitar work in Sleater-Kinney’s entire discography, while the agonized “Jenny” is a heartrending narration that pulls no punches in its description of heartbreak and loss. Sleater-Kinney has, somehow, invented and engineered the impossible: the punk ballad. Poignancy meets disillusionment in a series of soft yet still very intense tracks that do the band more justice than a listener might expect after hearing 1996’s “Call the Doctor.”

“Dig Me Out,” more than any other Sleater-Kinney record, is a truly amazing album for its ability to exist on the edge, always close to tumbling over into sheer mania but holding it in – just barely.

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