Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Corin Tucker has been actively involved in music since the early 1990s when, as a teenager, she launched the riot grrrl band Heavens to Betsy. Around the same time, Carrie Brownstein was heading up queercore outfit Excuse 17. Eventually the two joined forces to form Sleater-Kinney in 1994.
Drummer Janet Weiss (Quasi) jumped on board with the 1997 album Dig Me Out. During their career, Sleater-Kinney released seven albums to ever-increasing critical acclaim—they were named “America’s best rock band in 2001 by “Time” Magazine—before it all came to a screeching halt with their declaration of an “indefinite hiatus” in 2006. I was one of the many fortunate souls to attend one of their last two concerts at McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom in Portland, OR that August; it was easily the best show of my life.
Since then, we die-hard Sleater-Kinney fans have gobbled up whatever scraps these three have tossed our way. Weiss continues to work with Quasi, and has also been behind the drum kit of Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. Brownstein has been all over the place. She wrote the NPR music blog Monitor Mix and joined up with Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) to form the comedy duo Thunder.Ant; the two will star in the IFC original series Portlandia, starting this month. She and Weiss have also hooked up with Mary Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (The Minders) to form the band Wild Flag.
And Corin Tucker? In the midst of Sleater-Kinney, she married filmmaker Lance Bangs and had her first child. Post-band-breakup, she had a second child, then started working on new songs. This led to the formation of The Corin Tucker Band and the release of 1,000 Years on Kill Rock Stars, one of her alma mater labels. Tucker claims that 1,000 Years is a “middle-aged mom record.” In my opinion, it both isn’t and is.
It’s not an overt “mother album,” replete with songs about the transformative power of motherhood. There are hints at that, with lyrics on the title track like “who is that zombie/that is wearing Mama’s clothes?” Still, this is musical territory that has already been well-covered by other artists (including Sleater-Kinney, with album tracks and B-sides from 2002’s One Beat). Conversely, this is a “mom record,” insofar as it reflects the stereotypically more mellow—or at least more exhausted—stance of the middle-aged working mother.
Tucker is notorious for her astounding voice, known in operatic terms as a “spinto soprano” or a “dramatic soprano.” It was put to ferocious use in Sleater-Kinney, a band whose music addressed such topics as domestic violence, music industry sexism, and American politics. That vocal power rears its head only once on 1,000 Years, smack-dab in the middle of the album with the single “Doubt.” When Tucker belts out the line “Break up with the boogie/break up with the beat/but I just can't forget what it means to me/I tried, I tried/but I couldn't leave,” we hear that passionate devotion to her craft, and for a split second, share in what feels like her triumphant return.
Prior to and after that moment, however, a kinder gentler Tucker prevails. Overall, her voice could be characterized as a sweetly tamed keening. These songs exemplify lush, folksy, indie rock, full of handclaps and woodblocks, sleigh bells and string sections, with just a hint of psychedelia in the guitars. Personal favorites include “Half A World Away,” with a rhythm that sounds like Cut-era Slits, mid-career Raincoats, or The English Beat; and “Pulling Pieces,” perhaps the most telling track on the album aside from “Doubt.” There’s a bittersweetness to “Pulling Pieces,” especially with lyrics like “Tell me why did you close the door?/I can’t get in to where I’m supposed to go/I’m just a shadow of what I used to be.” I really wish I didn’t agree.