To call Sleater-Kinney the best rock band of the last two decades is to miss the point. It's an argument that has stormed across the internet like, well, a Sleater-Kinney song ever since the trio announced its return a few months ago after a ten-year hiatus. 

But I suspect Corin, Carrie and Janet don't give a damn what we think about them. “No Cities To Love,” a searing record of tight melodies and gripping charisma, asks many questions, but “do you still love us?” is not one of them. “What if your mom could kick your ass?” however, certainly is.

Indeed, these riot grrrls are now riot women. They've come a long way since the early ’90s DIY punk scene at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wa.

Carrie Brownstein's fame as curator of hipster hodge-podge “Portlandia” has eclipsed her fame as snarling guitarist in Sleater-Kinney—though you wouldn't know it from “No Cities To Love.” It's less a reunion album than a reignition record. There's no painful attempt to recreate the sublime here. It turns out lightning can strike the same place twice. Or, in this band's case, eight times.

We first caught a glimpse of the album back in November, when the single “Bury Our Friends” announced Sleater-Kinney's take-no-prisoners return. The song is a piece of pop mastership, anchored by Weiss' thunderous drumming, and driven to sing-along heights by Tucker's wild-eyed yawp and the band's signature dueling guitars. 

It was a reminder of what made them so good in the first place—an unpretentious dedication to craft that never sacrificed fury for listenability. Sleater-Kinney is the rare band that pulls off pissed and pop.
What's all the more impressive is the trio's command of tone. Tucker sings with all the urgency of a wildfire, yet the flames never consume these songs' emotional subtlety. The fuzz-rock opener “Price Tag,” for instance, evokes the concept of social cost for cheap consumer goods, as told through the eyes of single mothers stocking shelves at a department store. 

The irony, of course, is that this kick in the bourgeois derrière is even more relevant now than when Sleater-Kinney soundtracked the anti-globalization debate two decades ago. “I was lured by the cost,” Tucker admits of marked-down sale items, a godsend for those who live paycheck-to-paycheck. But really, “we never checked the price tag,” since there is so much—child labor, dangerous chemicals, carbon pollution—unaccounted for. Call it econ 101, or call it the way Sleater-Kinney open an album, capturing consumer guilt with poise.

Of course, this whole project is kind of meta. On “Surface Envy,” Tucker sings, bordering on platitude, that “we win, we lose, but only together do we break the rules.” Later on, she rhymes that with “make the rules.” We could take this as something of a manifesto. Sleater-Kinney have the trappings of a great punk band with distorted guitars, leftist politics, and shred-your-throat vocals. Yet they've also become everything a punk band is not supposed to be—idolized.

What happens when an anti-authoritarian band itself becomes an authority? Sleater-Kinney, after all, might be described as our version of the Sex Pistols—brash and iconoclastic, if infinitely more talented. They themselves are certainly not asking to be revered, as “No Anthem” makes clear. That is why the “best rock band” argument is absurd. 

Unquestionably, Sleater-Kinney deserve to be added to the pantheon of musical divinity, not because they are the token feminist punk band, but because they are so much more. Instead of comparing legacies like phalluses, their fate is to “invent [their] own kind of obscurity,” one in which the music speaks for itself.