Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out (1997)
Hearing Dig Me Out was one of those times. This was bracing punk rock, but with plenty of twists -- the distinctly female (and at least implicitly LGBT) perspectives, the vocal trade-offs between Corin Tucker's piercing wail and Carrie Brownstein's more traditional rock snarl, the no-bass twin-guitar duels that left Janet Weiss's controlled but ferocious beat to hold down the low end.
And while this is still pretty far afield from mainstream-friendly, not something I'm going to add to the playlist at a quiet dinner party, it's chock full of memorable hooks and lyrically rich.
"Little Babies" was, not surprisingly, the song that first won me over, the Tucker/Brownstein call and response front and center and an infectious, poppy chorus that sticks in your head forever. "Words and Guitar" follows a similar script, with the slinky intertwined vocals and loud-soft-loud dynamic again making the song stand out. The title track that leads off the album is more of a punk rock battle cry, while "Turn It On" is a more straightforward rocker (aside from Tucker's riveting vocals); the line "When you touch me I can not stand up" from the latter has always stuck with me, perhaps best capturing the band's far more direct approach to love, lust and relationships than typically seen in indie rock. And then there's the absolutely stunning mid-tempo break-up song, "One More Hour" ("Oh, you've got the darkest eyes....") that just rips at your heartstrings, a song I could play on auto-repeat all day.
All of the band's albums have a number of great tracks, making them perfect for a mix-tape (I've worn out my own 80-minute Sleater-Kinney cdr mix), and many are nearly as solid as this, but Dig Me Out remains my go-to S-K album. (I'm less partial to the two punkier pre-Dig albums, which lacked Weiss's steady beat, though "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" from the predecessor is one of the most essential indie rock tracks ever recorded.)
(After a half dozen or so more albums, the band took a decade-long sabbatical; Brownstein of course making a name for herself as a comic writer/actor in Portlandia, Tucker playing in a number of other projects (most recently Filthy Friends with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and others), and Weiss behind the kit for countless indie bands. They recently regrouped with a surprisingly solid album and have a new one due soon.)
Here's an in-store performance of "One More Hour":
Buy it on Amazon.
P.S. If you want to see what they've been up to, here's the video for their new single that just dropped, like, this morning. Just hearing it for the first time myself; obviously a much more polished, pop-friendly song, finding them more in Tegan & Sara territory: