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"At the most basic level, Sleater-Kinney build their music on the dialogue between Brownstein and Tucker: Two complementary/contentious guitars, neither of which owns the "lead"; two voices, one poised and contained, one gross and furious," said critic Terri Sutton, describing Dig Me Out. (Source)
According to Brownstein, her and Tucker's voices are "not complete without the other person's part." Sutton continues, "It's tempting to face them off…as reason vs. emotion, or sardonic commentary and action. They are those things, and yet they are not. Their meaning shifts, mutates, much as the relationship between these two women has changed, will change." (Source)
This description hits the nail on the head: at its core, the music in "One More Hour" is about the relationship between Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker. Their voices, their guitars, and their emotions push back and forth against each other. From start to finish, it is difficult to tell which of the two women is singing, and the guitars begin as two voices before melding into one.
The song strikes out on a mission of emotional directness from the first measure, with a low guitar part suggesting a bass line, accompanied by a deep, calm, rock n' roll drum beat. A screaming second guitar comes in above the first before Tucker begins to sing. The two distinct guitar parts play off of each other, seeming to converse.
With the first "Oh you've got the darkest eyes," the song turns from conversation to argument. Without warning, Brownstein's voice comes in a full octave below Tucker, the drummer hits the high hat, and the guitar parts both shift. Brownstein and Tucker sing in unison over a strangely major chord progression.
The guitar parts move to the center of the scale and become difficult to distinguish from one another, and Tucker and Brownstein throw their voices together in a style that has been compared to the medieval singing style known as the hocket, where one singer completes another's lines to produce a spooky, spiritual musical effect. Many a critic has called their music "angular"; indeed, they are like geometric shapes that fit together in new ways with each chorus and verse.
As in most Sleater-Kinney songs, Corin Tucker's famously quavering voice (known by band members as "The Tool") drives its intensity. Some people can't stand the sound, but Tucker says she cultivated it intentionally, saying, "My actual voice is not that different from anybody else's. The first Heavens to Betsy record that we recorded I sing really low and deep. But eventually we played more live shows, and the songs I sang that were sort of higher and freakier, people would be so freaked out. That tension and that craziness is what I always wanted to create. I worked really hard to sing like that." (Source)
"I needed it," she cries in that cultivated howl. Below her, Brownstein pushes back "I know, I know, I know." After a final verse and the heartbreaking bridge about the other girl, the guitars spread out again into a tightly woven mass of sound characterized by a classic driving punk riff. Suddenly, without warning, the noise diminishes to that bare plucked opening with two distinct guitar parts, hits a final chord, and fades.
"I think it's as much to do with the way we deliver the message," says drummer Janet Weiss. "We're maybe a little bit more wild, more reluctant to play things by the book." Sleater-Kinney emerged from the indie music scene in Olympia, Washington, and stayed indie throughout their 11-year career as a band. "It was strange, even in that little indie-rock world, where everything's supposed to be cool and liberated, someone had their guard up because we're an all-woman band." (Source)
Though they have resisted being labeled as just a riot grrrl band, a feminist band, or a women's band, Sleater-Kinney's calling card is a conscious pride in who they are: indie, feminist punks who turned down plenty of big label offers in their day. They are fine with being riot grrrls, they're just not fine with being depicted as mere riot grrrls. And they're fine with getting attention, as long as it doesn't take away from their artistic integrity.
"It's important to us to be successful at our music," says Weiss. "We're ambitious people and want people to hear our music. But all the accoutrements are not that appealing." (Source) The accoutrements? All the superficiality, commercialism, and sexism of the mainstream rock industry—an industry thoroughly mocked by a decent number of Sleater-Kinney songs and intelligently picked over by Sleater-Kinney's members in countless interviews.
Dig Me Out was released on Kill Rock Stars, an indie label whose name should indicate its politics. On Kill Rock Stars, the band kept releasing critically acclaimed albums, and kept turning down offers from bigger labels.
"I've never seen a band go from selling 10,000 to 20,000 records to selling 100,000 without freaking out about the attention," Kill Rock Stars founder Slim Moon told Spin in 2004. After Dig Me Out was released, "Sleater-Kinney were more critically acclaimed than anybody besides Radiohead, so the nature of the attention put them on the spot." (Source)
Even though they were on the spot, especially after the popularity of Dig Me Out the band stuck together and stuck to their punk, indie guns. And the critics loved that, too. "Nobody has ever traveled this far using the punk-rock map, and sometimes it's a lonely place to be" (source), Rob Sheffield gushed in Rolling Stone. Another critic called them "one of the decade's staunchest proponents of punk's do-it-yourself ethic… They've proven that you can sell lots of records without buying into the rock star myth." (Source)
Or, as Weiss put it, "We're not rich, but we're still doing it!" (Source)
As media savvy riot grrrls, Sleater-Kinney always knew they would have to push against a lot of contradiction in order to get the attention they desired as a band. They merely planned around the obstacles, rejected lots of record deals, and kept making good music.
"If Tucker is appalled by the politics of the rock-and-roll star system, she's driven by the ambition to get what she has to say across," said the Boston Phoenix in 1996. "Too many rock critics have dismissed riot grrrl because it hasn't made a commercial impact (as if the charts were all that mattered), but much of the greatest rock and roll hasn't made that kind of impact. To wonder whether riot grrrl will reach the masses or whether Sleater-Kinney are rock and roll's future is not the point. This is: for anyone with the ears to hear, they are its present." (Source)
Some people find Sleater-Kinney abrasive. Corin Tucker's voice is too screeching and in-your-face, and the lyrics are direct and cutting, often touching on political themes and sparing none.
"The songs are really personal. They're really honest, even if they're sometimes unpleasant," says drummer Janet Weiss. "The lyrics evoke so many emotions. Our analogies are visual and the metaphors are direct. Corin and Carrie are singing about things they care about. I feel it." (Source)
True to Weiss' explanation, the songwriting in "One More Hour" centers around a couple of simple bits of imagery and direct metaphors. The first image is a sad one: two lovers in a room, spending their last hour together as lovers. The second image is more subtle: a dress and shoes left by the done-wrong lover that the other one keeps on wearing. The song's last verse concludes with a plea:
Take off the dress
Take off the face
I'll hold you close
Before I leave.
The image is complete, and it is that of a girl begging for a last moment of shared vulnerability before she walks away from her lover. The dress and the shoes become a sort of wall that the lover puts on, and Tucker begs her to let down her guard one last time. Tragically, the other woman is right there, responding and trying to understand—Carrie's lines are, "I know it's so hard for you to let it go… I know it's so hard for you to say goodbye."
This is one of those intimate, incomplete break-ups, and the song conveys the bittersweet feeling of that last window of time together.
The most wrenching part, however, is the line that leads us into the end of the song. "Don't say another word about the other girl," Tucker cries. Whether "the other girl" is just a metaphor, or the narrating voice has really been cheated on, Tucker need not say more. Her defiant line reveals her trying desperately to control their final moments. It is a plea that evokes one of the most vulnerable feelings to fit into a break-up song: desire.
Just as we start to really share in that feeling of wanting, the song ends in a rushed way--painful, but true to the real life feeling it conveys. "One More Hour" is over, and with it, that last hour of vulnerability also seems to end forever. For the suckers among us, it's hard not to go back and listen again and again.