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One Beat (Kill Rock Stars)

By now, few outsiders will have converted to the signature warp and weft of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein's intertwined words and guitars. But that's because these riot-grrrl grads hone the contrast between their brittle verses and soaring choruses more sharply here than ever -- just one example of how Sleater-Kinney's sixth album continues the trio's preternatural record of moving forward every time out.

In fact, if anything, this is where the three women themselves are converted, shedding the last vestiges of their punk asceticism for baptism in a river of old soul and pop motifs, such as the joyous, cheesy synthesizer on Brownstein's straightforward love letter "Oh!" or the gospel-inspired coda to Tucker's complex ode to Portland, "Light-Rail Coyote."

The result is their richest music ever and their most unexpectedly powerful album since Call the Doctor seven years ago. If this giant step forward is inspired by the backward steps America has made over the past year, it's also inspired by the group's personal-life changes. Tucker's new baby, for example, makes an appearance on a stunning closing track that finally shreds Sleater-Kinney's signature style as definitively as the group has always shredded our own diminished expectations for the contemporary promise of rock & roll.

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