Sleater-Kinney performs a three-night stand at the Fillmore in San Francisco Sept. 23-25.

One of the most anticipated releases of the year, Portland trio Sleater-Kinney’s sixth album actually lives up to the ladies’ billing (by noted rock critic Greil Marcus) as one of the most important rock bands in the world. Former Chicoan Larry Crane produced the record and did a great job of isolating the live dynamics of the riot-grrl-influenced rockers. That dynamic is colored first and foremost by the overpowering vocals of lead singer/guitarist Corin Tucker—who seems to be drawing from an endless well of rock lung power—and complemented by the electrifyingly concise work of guitarist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss. Shades of Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith can be heard throughout, and the album has a number of musical guests (including Sam Coomes on theramin) while also marking the first time a man—Stephen Trask, author of Hedwig and the Angry Inch film songs—has ever sung on an SK record, in this case for the explosive ode to female bookworms, “Pristina.”

Yet what makes the record great for me are two things: first, the tangible thrill the girls have experimenting with their established sound—going more New Wave in spots while maintaining their fundamental assault on guitar rock. And second, the attempts to lyrically address political issues aside from feminism. The song “Combat Rock” offers the lines, “Oh god I love my dirty Uncle Sam/ our country is marching to the beat now … where is the protest song? Since when is skepticism un-American?"—a welcome relief that somebody has the balls (pun intended) to start making relevant protest songs again.

Overall, one of the best rock records of the year from one of the most driven of American rock bands, a group that continually lives up to the tired tag of "great female rock hope" even as some argue that it coasts on media hype. But the bottom line remains: Is the rock real? And here SK proves again that it is—while managing to grow in an interesting musical direction at the same time.