They Came From Washington...
No, not *that* Washington. The one that doesn't suck; the one that generally votes Democratic (well, the one that sucks votes Dem, too; they just don't count, though it would be cool if they could get their ballpark renamed Taxation Without Representation Stadium... but I digress), the one where the rain and the coastal/inland split just seems to engender a disproportionate number of good rock bands.
Sleater-Kinney remains the 800-pound lady gorilla of the Pacific Northwest music scene. After a longish absence, the trio returns with a new album, "The Woods", due out May 24. The download song on their newly relaunched websitemore or less aligns with the rumors about the record: less structured, more raucous, a bit more challenging, guitar-heavy in a new way. With a devoted audience--if you don't believe me, take the quiz, and then go read the answers--they very easily could have cranked out more of same, and probably made a nice living in doing so. Instead, they seem to try something different every time out. What's really impressive to me is that while pushing their musical comfort zone, they've maintained a down-to-earth ethic--my enduring memory of S-K probably will always be seeing the three members just sitting at a table, drinking and hanging out, toward the back of a club in the Village where they were headlining that night, about three years ago, looking for all the world like any other three women out to hear some tunes and mostly being left alone by the same fans who would be shrieking for them an hour later.
Speaking of different, I must highly commend The Decemberists, a very talented band that nonetheless seems a bit unsure how seriously to take themselves. After downloading a few really superb songs, I invested in their new album "Picaresque" a few weeks ago. With song matter ranging from a vagabond sailor's grisly revenge on the gadabout who drove his mother to an early grave, to a teenager's humiliation on the soccer field, to the companionship of gay prostitutes to what I think might be a retelling of the underrated Kevin Costner spy flick "No Way Out," the album really takes one places. The goofy cover art calls to mind a really low-rent community theatre troop, which I imagine is the point. Every band has its persona, but this one just seems like an excess of ironic reserve from a group that could easily let its talent speak for itself.