Song of the Day: Sleater-Kinney, "Buy Her Candy"
For me, Sleater-Kinney was one of those bands I read about for years before hearing any of the actual music. That was a general pitfall of music access when this album arrived in '97. My beloved Spin had declared Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Janet Weiss an extremely good and important group largely based on their third full-length Dig Me Out. But though I was able to read quotes from the women and follow the arc of their career and do close readings of the criticism surrounding their music, I could not physically find a copy of Dig Me Out to save my life. Mail order was available but felt sketchy, and though CDNow was operational, this was still in the era before everybody felt comfortable buying most everything online.
This was not an unusual development for me during my high school days. There were a handful of oft-referenced bands about whom I knew many intimate details but could not whistle one of their songs. Pavement was a good example—since rock writers adored Pavement, they were often held up as a point of comparison or as a sideways reference. So though I knew about Stephen Malkmus' affinity for Boggle and was familiar with the lyric sheet from "Range Life," I don't think I actually heard a full-length Pavement album until 1999, and even then it was the limp finale Terror Twilight. (Freshman year of college, which brought with it my first high speed Internet connection and a Napster account, was when I finally heard Slanted and Enchanted in full.) This cycle dissipated roughly around the arrival of higher-quality streaming audio in 2001, as I recall the last band whose sound I had to construct for myself based on words written about them was the Strokes (and even then I failed miserably—I expected Is This It? to sound like Aerosmith's Rocks).
Such was the case with Sleater-Kinney, though I did manage to finally get around to hearing Dig Me Out even as they were becoming slightly bigger stars in the aftermath. At some point during the summer before my senior year, I was sent on an audition to do voices for a computer game called Rescue Heroes (it's a franchise that later became absolutely fucking gigantic). I got completely lost on my way to the studio (it was somewhere in western Connecticut, an area I knew little about). I have no idea what town I was in, but I do know that I passed by a record store that was going out of business. Assuming I was already late and may never arrive at the audition anyway, I popped in to get my bearings and to sample the wares. The selection had already been pretty thoroughly picked over, though the one place where the greatest cross-section of bargain and selection was in the racks of cassettes. Since my car still had a tape deck, I tended to make myself mixtapes for driving but did pick up the occasional album in the format, which I thought had been long dead but still survived (there were brand new albums on tape in the racks at this place). For two bucks a piece, I grabbed a copy of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (still the only classic jazz album I've spent any time with), Deftones' Around the Fur (easily one of the five best albums from the nu-metal era), and Dig Me Out. I listened to the Sleater-Kinney first, as it had been the most built up for me and felt like the climax of a particularly grueling development period. It was well worth it, as everyone knows now that Dig Me Out is a pretty perfect collection of jittery garage punk drizzled with just enough caramelized pop sugar to make the rabble-rousing go down smooth. I love the stark savagery of "Buy Her Candy," the track that stood out to me most on that first listen. I was transfixed by Tucker's remarkable voice, which always sounds like it is on the verge of collapsing but is powered by a combination of nervous energy and the sheer will of necessity. The one bummer about "Buy Her Candy" is that it has no drums, which puts the bone-breaking Weiss on the sidelines. Otherwise, it was the perfect entry—one that proved elusive but ultimately made sweeter by the quest.