Let’s clear the air: St. Vincent’s production role in Sleater-Kinney’s 2019 The Center Won’t Hold had little to do with their new electro-pop sound, or drummer Janet Weiss’ decision to leave. Their latest self-produced album, Path of Wellness (Mom + Pop), engineered by Adam Lee, finds Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker expanding their newer electronic styles as a duo, albeit with a harder beat. You can almost hear echoes of the band’s strongest turn-of-millennium albums, but with more self-reflection that at times dilutes their power.
The opening title track deliberately puts drums front and center, while ”No Knives” almost flaunts the idea that they need no more than studio drummers. Brownstein uses her filmmaking and performance art expertise to come up with clever arrangements. Tucker, meanwhile, has proven in solo albums and work with Filthy Friends that she can sing virtually anything, as the first verse of “High in the Grass” displays. It’s a shame they have to stress their legitimacy as strong women and party-centric rockers. But when you’re in your mid-40s, it’s silly to pretend you remain the same punks you were at 20.
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Alternative Communication, The Three-Body Problem (Bandcamp/s-r) - Janette and Brian Kidd reunite with former collaborator/guitarist/keyboardist David Reid in this trio with roots in 1980s progressive rock. Most of this album was composed, recorded and mixed during the pandemic. Their style sublimely combines melodic progressive electronica, a signature for the Kidds, with a delicately dissonant tension suggesting Red-period King Crimson. The agility to shape-shift is demonstrated by the opening single “World on Fire,” with Janette’s lovely vocals, followed by the precision and majesty of the instrumental “Psychotomy.”
Azure Ray, Remedy (Flower Moon Records) – Southern experimental vocalists Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink both have solo careers, but their occasional collaboration as the Azure Ray is regularly anticipated by fans. It’s been more than a decade since Drawing Down the Moon, yet their ability to fuse two distinct vocal styles in “Phantom Lover” and “I Don’t Want To Want To,” indicates they haven’t missed a beat.