7. Sleater-Kinney (1995)
Clocking out after a mere 22 minutes, Sleater-Kinney's debut takes the stylistic torch of the Pacific Northwest indie scene and holds it heroically high. At this point, the band was a side project, but as a combination of Heavens To Betsy's rangy melodicism and Excuse 17's tight punk-rock rhythmic chops, it's clear in retrospect why this new project became the primary focus. The album is a heady series of refusals: to sell out, to be defined by any relationship, to be claimed by the hungry maw of American masculinity. Brownstein and Tucker's guitars curl and seethe like some combination of Sonic Youth (especially on album opener "Don't Think You Wanna" and the minute-long "A Real Man") and Fugazi. The basic dynamic was established here: Tucker occupies the low end and Brownstein provides minimalist, melodic pings.
At the time, the album was regarded in the larger music press as an exemplary riot grrrl document, but it's now clear how grand the band's sonic ambition was. The downcast, alt-pop "The Day I Went Away" is an early experiment in contrasting vocals, with Tucker taking the chorus, contributing a poignancy to Brownstein's affecting flatness on the verses' line endings. "The Last Song" conjures a churning ocean of low-end; Brownstein expertly dials up the vocal restiveness until the screamo chorus ("I don't owe you anything/ I'm not a part of you") hollered (I imagine) from the back of the recording space. And "Slow Song" rides the range as well as vintage Pavement, with Tucker scaling back the ululations for heart-tugging alienation.
Remarkably, the album was recorded in a single day with a recruited drummer (Lora Macfarlane) during a trip to Australia. (The band's founders were a couple at this point, a fact revealed to the world -- and the band's families -- in a 1997 Spin article.) Macfarlane -- who sings lead on "Lora's Song," backed by Tucker's subtle rhythmic chopping -- moved to Seattle, recording the follow-up Call The Doctor. Sleater-Kinney's reputation has suffered in comparison to the confident punk-rock surge of Doctor, but make no mistake: This is an assured, powerful record.