Graded on a Curve:
Corin Tucker Band,
Kill My Blues

1,000 Years was 2010’s post-Sleater-Kinney debut from Corin Tucker, a self-described “middle aged mom record” that if generally well-received as a thoughtful break from her power-rocking past, still didn’t set the world ablaze. Her brand new LP is Kill My Blues, and with bassist Seth Lorinczi (Circus Lupus/Golden Bears), drummer Sara Lund (Unwound), and guitarist Mike Clark (The Jicks of Malkmus) in tow, the Corin Tucker Band present a 12-song affair that’s fairly certain to trigger numerous alarms.

For starters, Kill Rock Stars is a no nonsense kind of label, and naturally they gravitate toward similarly minded artists, folks whose main desire lies in writing and recording songs, releasing albums and then taking it all out on the road. Musicians that don’t have all freaking day to lounge around trying to come up with the perfect buzz-worthy band name. For instance, in 2007 Kill Rock Stars released The Shapes We Make, the only album from The Mary Timony Band, featuring the former Helium leader and current Wild Flag member doing it in a stripped-down yet expansive trio context.

And three years later came 1,000 Years from the Corin Tucker Band. Both were records made by women with nothing to prove, standing as a pair of direct statements reinforced by the just-the-facts monikers attached to their spines. And both were rather coolly received; in Tucker’s case it seemed that despite her self-deprecating warning that 1,000 Years was not Sleater-Kinney Mk II, the sound still diverged a little (or a lot) too much to inspire an impassioned large scale reaction.

I happened to like 1,000 Years quite a bit, giving it a lot of play in the months directly following its release. But after that I must admit to spinning it rarely. In preparation for this review it hit my system once again, and a big part of me felt like an utter stupe for not giving it more time. But a small part of me could understand why the LP hadn’t gotten more play in my home court.

1,000 Years was billed to the Corin Tucker Band, but it ultimately felt like a solo LP. I’m not stating this as a negative but rather simply pointing out a reality, a fact that it’s creator spoke plainly about with that statement regarding 40-something motherhood. But what’s immediately apparent in listening to Kill My Blues is that the Band has definitely become a band. They’ve got the heat of a four-piece that’s spent some serious time in the practice space getting it all worked out.

What differentiates them from Wild Flag, the group featuring the other two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney along with the aforementioned Timony and Rebecca Cole of The Minders, is that the Corin Tucker Band is an entity with a clear leader, even though both bands are made up of scene veterans. In Wild Flag’s case, they strut it out like a supergroup, and are accurately received as such.

And the CTB could easily be promoted the same way; in fact a more meddlesome record label might’ve insisted on pushing this angle with the intention of shifting more units. I mean, playing in the Jicks should be a major bullet point on almost anyone’s résumé, Unwound was one of the best of the ‘90s ferociously indie bands, and Circus Lupus simply rocked up a storm, though far too few listeners got hip to the fact as that group unfortunately fell into the “they’re on Dischord so they must sound just like Fugazi” syndrome. But to advertise the Corin Tucker Band in this fashion would ultimately be a mistake. To reiterate, while Kill My Blues bears the results of a very good, occasionally great rock unit, it’s still Tucker’s show in the end.

For right out of the starting gate “Groundhog Day” spits out the sparks of an anthemic call to arms, possessing some rousing dual guitar interplay in the song’s mid-section, with Tucker sounding legitimately ticked-off throughout. And why shouldn’t she be? Sleater-Kinney was one of the hammer blows to the ugliness of male rock dinosaur hegemony, proving so successful that some current scene participants have on one hand taken it for granted (which can easily allow for subconscious backsliding) and on the other side there’s the tendency to discover certain attitudes ramping up into a new Business As Usual (see Vice’s rather bullshit “review” of Grass Widow’s Internal Logic a few months back).

But if well-focused and appropriately indignant, Kill My Blues is also varied. The title track adds electric keyboard tones to the mix, surely a nice touch, but what’s really impressive is the full band interaction; strong dynamics, the sly touches of percussion (specifically a tambourine, a sorta slept-on instrument in the here and now) and the overall depth of the instrumentation making clear that if this record finds Tucker returning to an angrier, harder rocking place, it is far from a reversion to square-one.

“Neskowin” is the tune obviously intended to get the live crowds moving, though that doesn’t mean it diverts from the pissed punkiness. And Tucker seems totally comfortable back in her wheelhouse as an uninhibited vocal force, though to my ear this track pushes her slightly into the territory of rock ‘n’ soul belter (only slightly, though). Thankfully this doesn’t sound like a premeditated (and therefore overcooked) circumstance on her part.

“I Don’t Wanna Go” provides one of Kill My Blues’ best moments, raging like it’s from the eye of the Riot Grrl hurricane circa ’94 (I can easily envision Joan Jett on the side of a stage pumping her fist in approval), but with an expert swagger and a deft sense of just how much to downshift before ramping the song back up again for a smoking conclusion. “Constance” is a significant and savvy change in direction, standing as a well executed piece of heavy pop construction amidst the record’s general atmosphere of unfettered rocking, and additionally a song that’s seemingly conceived as a shape-shifter; a big part of its appeal is in how it connects as being unable to settle into just one groove, instead revealing itself in layers.

“No Bad News Tonight” is more conventionally power-poppy in execution, though as the LP’s shortest tune it still throbs with the aura of punkish unrest. “Summer Jams” by contrast sprawls out to over twice the previous track’s length, redirecting sharply at the midway point in order to provide a slow build back into a reprise of the tune’s driving and smartly catchy opening strains.

Curiously, “None like You” throws a curveball, beginning as a solid piece of psyche-pop storytelling before bursting into a more expected hunk of galloping indie-rock wallop, the kind of sound that was everywhere roughly twenty years back, the very stuff of Tucker’s formative years in the Pac-NW scene around the start of Clinton’s first term. Did somebody say Heavens to Betsy? Indeed, that’s the stuff.

“Joey” is also quite melodic, though it retains enough edge to keep it flowing nicely within the record’s overall scheme of things. Plus, the song gives Tucker a chance to air out those pipes and furthermore possesses yet another outstanding instrumental passage. And “Outgoing Message” is one of the album’s true highlights, a song that manages to integrate some ‘60s girl-group action (check out that drum line for evidence) as filtered through just a touch of the Ramones but with a heaping helping of Patti at her most pop reverent on top; put it all together and Tucker radiates a vibe that’s almost like a punk-bred Natalie Merchant. And that’s a heck of a thing to consider.

“Blood, Bones and Sand” is worth the price of admission for Lund’s cymbal work alone. She rides that hi-hat like a champ. The song also makes it clear just how impressive Tucker’s songwriting remains, even when the main objective of Kill My Blues is to return to the raucous side of things. And “Tiptoe” is a solid closer, though I might’ve preferred an uptempo barn-burner to the tracks slower maul, though the cut does end with a shred and a bang nonetheless.

If there is any minor issue with Kill My Blues, it’s that it has a few fleeting moments that retain the more pronounced “solo” treatment expressed through 1,000 Years. I don’t consider this a fault necessarily, but instead as an attribute that mildly lessens the record’s overall impact. But it’s a minor quibble for sure, as this terrific second installment from post-Sleater-Kinney Corin Tucker shines as a welcome blast of sharp rocking from a band full of wily vets. And it’s a disc that completely avoids the pitfall of going through the motions. The next one just might be an absolute monster.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+ 

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