Way of well-being, like The center will not hold before that, looks like an album divided between songs by Corin Tucker and songs by Carrie Brownstein. I don’t know how they wrote the album, and maybe each track is a real collaboration. But the two members of the group used to sing over each other, their voices forming a crushing net. They seemed to sing to each other, or at each other. It’s gone now. Instead, the two take turns singing, which makes me feel like something is missing.
Aesthetically, Way of well-being looks like a homecoming. After the stylized chandelier of The center will not hold, Tucker and Brownstein performed for the first time, and they did something that sounds, more or less, like indie rock. A keyboard can bubble from time to time, and there is certainly bass on the album as well. But it is above all Sleater-Kinney who returns to older sounds, in particular to the relative restraint of the years 1999 The Hot Rock. It’s not The Hot Rock, more.
For all his shattered silence, The Hot Rock was unmistakably the work of a punk band. Way of well-being is not. Way of well-being also doesn’t sound like the work of people who have their whole world at stake. There is motivation for the album, but there is no desperation. This time around, Sleater-Kinney sounds more relaxed, more content. It makes sense. Brownstein and Tucker have other things to do in their lives. Every band that lasts long enough ultimately loses any sense of crazy commitment. This does not mean that these tapes lose their value.
There are a lot of good things about Way of well-being. I love the way the single “Worry With You” moves and twists. On “Complex Female Characters,” Brownstein adapts the character of an asshole trying to show how much of an asshole he is: “I like these complex female characters, but I want my women to fall easily. The guitars of “Shadow Town” loop over and over again, like two people in deep conversation. The closing track “Bring Mercy” is a beauty, and this is the moment where Corin Tucker really captures the spirit. She sings as she watches Portland, the city where she lives, transform into a place where right-wing authorities attack protesters, but she could also offer a back door message to anyone who might be angry with her group: “You want to prove that I am. am wrong you wanna prove you’re right / wanna tell your story around the campfire light / but when tomorrow comes and i’m always around / how are you going to live your day once again?
Way of well-being feels like a cultivator, a smoother and more subtle album. I won’t know for sure for a while, though. Sleater-Kinney did not Way of well-being available to critics early – or, at least, not to this review – so I’m dealing with this thing along with everyone else. It’s not an album designed to show up on first impression, but first impression is all I got. My first impression is: not bad! This is not the disaster I feared. It is not a triumph either. But we already have a lot of Sleater-Kinney triumphs. If a good enough album is what they have to offer this time around, then I’ll take a good enough album.
Way of well-being is now available on Mom + Pop.