Over the last ten years or so, Sleater-Kinney has morphed from a little-known, angry riot-grrrl trio to the group crowned “America’s Best Rock Band” by Time Magazine. Knowing that I count myself among their numerous and highly dedicated fans, you might be surprised that on first listen, I was underwhelmed by their highly-anticipated seventh full length, The Woods. I was initially put off by the crazy backwards guitar solos and weird lyrics about tomatoes and baby animals, and Corin’s wail had become almost too much to handle… but one song, ‘Jumpers’, a beautifully woven tune narrating a girl’s decision to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge, kept me coming back. And as I did, the rest of the album began to shine in its own right. With the exception of the horrible first track (featuring the aforementioned animals), this album represents a maturity not yet heard from the trio. Gone is the formulaic dual guitar pattern they were stuck in for too long. Gone is One Beat’s conspicuous political stance. In their place stand huge guitars, epic drums, and a focus on the personal as political. Guitarist Carrie Brownstein particularly shines here, showing her quiet side on the fuzzy ballad ‘Modern Girl’ and proving she still has some of the raw anger left from their early days on ‘Entertain’, her call-out of the pathetic music industry. Still, while it is refreshing to hear them exploring new territory, at times they overdo it. For example, I could do without the 11 minutes of rambling guitar wankery on the bluesy ‘Let’s Call it Love’. In short, new and old fans alike will find The Woods more challenging but also more involving than their recent past efforts. My advice? Buy it for ‘Jumpers’, easily the best song of the year, and let the rest grow on you.