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To describe the dizzy thrill of Sleater-Kinney, one has to reach back to the bristling energy of early rock ‘n’ roll. Think of Chuck Berry cackling the words to “Maybelline.” Think of Wanda Jackson’s redemptive howl. Think of Muddy Waters’ deliberate spelling of “M-A-N,” each letter promising transgressive pleasure and social upheaval.

That any band can recall that wild vitality is a gift. That they can do so on their sixth album, a time when most bands are either out of steam or out of ideas, is even more impressive. Yet “One Beat,” Sleater-Kinney’s newest album, generates the sort of fierce energy usually associated with adolescents.

“These are feelings that pulse through us when we play music together,” says drummer Janet Weiss in an e-mail interview from the group’s base in Portland, Oregon. “These currents are often powerful, and for this we’re thankful.”

The trio — guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, and Weiss — has always defied convention. Despite the critical accolades they’ve received since their debut album in 1994, they remain committed to a small indie label. And despite maturity (Weiss is in her late 30s) and Tucker’s recent motherhood, they also remain steadfast rockers.

The jams on “One Beat” are perhaps not as fast and furious as previous outings, but songs like “Oh” and “O2” bounce right out of the speakers.

Sleater-Kinney has also added some new flourishes. “Sympathy” reveals a bluesy side of the band, and “Prisstina,” with vocals from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” composer Stephen Tasker, shows a more theatrical bent.

“Stephen had asked us to work on a project, but we were in the studio,” says Weiss. “So he was in our thoughts when we began throwing around names of folks we might want to add some color to the record. ‘Prisstina’ seemed tailor-made for his campy sass.”

The increased musical scope on “One Beat” is also testament to their ongoing relationship with producer and engineer John Goodmanson.

“Exploring our relationship with John has been very rewarding,” says Weiss, “and each time we make a record with him, he comes to the table with new ideas and new technique. He is very adept at getting the best out of us, knowing when to push us harder and knowing when he’s captured something special.”

Physical proximity also made a difference. For the first time, all three band members were living in Portland while making the album. “Light Rail Coyote,” a hymn to the city’s grittiness, is one of the new album’s standout cuts.

“This is the first record we’ve written while living in the same city, and yes, it very much affected the outcome and the process,” says Weiss. “We can now play more often in a relaxed, unforced atmosphere.”

With only two guitars and drums, Sleater-Kinney’s continuing ability to reinvent themselves has required increasingly higher degrees of ingenuity.

“We pushed ourselves on this record to explore new musical areas and approaches,” says Weiss. “The confines of our band prevent a total departure from our known sound. But hopefully, our music can continue to document our place in space and time, and to leave an important record of who we were when we made it.”

Their instrumental trademarks — Brownstein and Tucker’s dueling, flirting guitars — are as much a function of clever disguise of one’s limitations as a clever exploitation of one’s strengths. Taken separately, neither Tucker or Brownstein’s guitar-playing is in itself outstanding. But the visceral sound of the two combined is formidable.

The interplay of their voices is the group’s other hallmark. Tucker’s voice has the quivering urgency of an evangelist crossed with Grace Slick. Brownstein has the cool delivery of a saucy heart-breaker.

Weiss’ drumming, however, is what elevates Sleater-Kinney from a very good band to a great one. She may look like a soccer mom, but she plays with the aplomb of Art Blakey and the verve of Marky Ramone.

“One Beat” rocks undoubtedly, but beneath its racing beats and roaring guitars is a sense of disquiet. Sleater-Kinney has always been both the most personal and most political of bands, reflecting their roots in the proto-feminist “riotgrrl” rock of the early ’90s. Thus it is no surprise to see the charged atmosphere of the post-Sept. 11 United States reflected in their songs.

“2002 was a disparaging and confusing year,” Weiss said. “The songs were bound to carry heavy weight. The only thing artists have a responsibility to do is to express themselves and to keep working. Not all art has to encourage thought, because sometimes encouraging feeling and empathy are much more important.”

It is actually when Sleater-Kinney’s political musings are at their most oblique that they are most effective. “Combat Rock” is too pedantic in its commentary on the uniformity of thought and patriotism that is currently rife in the U.S.

The title track and “Far Away” explore the same terrain less directly. The latter works because it is more personal: a mother watching the events of Sept. 11, and asking for “the sky . . . to not rain on my family tonight.”

“One Beat” also seems reflective of Tucker’s recent motherhood, but here she is the goddess mother threatening in the voice of her offspring to “turn this place upside down and shake you and your fossils out.”

But for Sleater-Kinney, it isn’t just what rock says that is cathartic, but also the sheer physicality of rock music itself. On “Step Aside,” a bootie-shaking anthem that celebrates the soul-freeing possibilities of a groove, Tucker asks, “Why don’t you shake a tail for peace and love?” Brownstein and Weiss coo in the background like The Supremes, while slippery horns add an extra Motown touch.

To paraphrase the ’60s radical philosopher Marcuse, will the revolution wear a mini skirt?

“Damn right it will,” says Weiss.

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