Having added Quasi member Janet Weiss' distinguished drumkit to the mix for 1997's triumphant Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney found a sound somewhere between a lo-fi version of the Go-Go's and the no-holds-barred rage of 70s punk rock. Capturing the imagination of critics and fans alike, Dig Me Out thrust the band instantly into the limelight and down that dangerous path. Well, The Hot Rock finds the girls from Olympia, Washington deftly handling in stride everything thrown at them.
Still carrying Carrie Brownstein's trademark disjointed guitar riffs (a friend of mine claims that there's not a single chord on the album) and Corin Tucker's shrill vocals, the album remains on familiar, if slightly transformed, ground. Weiss trades her punctuated pounding on Dig Me Out for a more suggestive, almost soulful sound here. Along with sometime Yo La Tengo producer Roger Moutenot's hands on deck, it provides the album with a subdued texture.
Offsetting the album's understated demeanor is Brownstein's and Tucker's growing confidence as songwriters. Throughout the album, they layer distinct lyrical points of view responsively in a unique and complex innovation that works particularly well given their vocal differences. These elements are combined with great success on The Hot Rock, and never more so than on "God Is a Number" and "Living in Exile". The former worries about a loss of humanity in a technological world while the latter contemplates self-knowledge through loss.
The Hot Rock lacks Dig Me Out's power, but it represents a confident and intriguing step forward for Sleater-Kinney, while maintaining the basics of their singular sound. As they continue to expertly manage the deadman's curve of artistic acclaim, Sleater-Kinney is quickly emerging as one of America's premiere rock bands. The Hot Rock is another mile successfully traversed and another solid album for the band.