The Future Is Here for Sleater-Kinney

The Center Won't Hold - Sleater KinneyThe turbulence of new sonic pursuits and the departure of Janet Weiss have dominated the build-up to The Center Won’t Hold, Sleater-Kinney’s second album following a decade-long break. One can forgive the initial shock for fans who rank Dig Me Out amongst the most important albums of their lives. Under the influence of producer Annie Clark, The Center Won’t Hold is more like St. Vincent’s Masseduction than No Cities To Love. Sleater-Kinney have never before pushed the boundaries of their music this far, but the end result is one of the best albums to come along in years.

Throughout the record, waves of electronic noise wash over the band to create an uncertain new marriage. For loyal fans the title track might sound as inviting as tea with a demogorgon. The industrial clang is like Depeche Mode backing Gary Numan on the eve of the apocalypse, but the final minute of the song shifts gear and Sleater-Kinney become as energized as ever. The tension of the industrial death march effectively winds the listener up so the payoff feels like some great reward. It lays out a path for the rest of the album, where the past and future mingle in a dangerous present.

After a few listens, the reason behind Weiss' decision to depart seems pretty clear. Her style - which was absolutely critical to the band’s sound previously - clashes with the more rigid, electronic style found here. Having the courage to evolve knowing this could break the band should only strengthen our love for them. Going through the motions of past glories might provide an initial spike of euphoria but it quickly wears thin for both the artist and the listener. As much as I yearn for each new Ani DiFranco album to sound like Out Of Range, I have made peace with the diminishing returns that would yield.

Hearing The Center Won’t Hold in its entirety, it's hard to imagine even the most ardent fan screaming betrayal. The songs are simply too good to deny that the creative turbulence yielded a significant work of art. The maturity woven into the lyrics demands a richer template and Clark guides them with a gentle but firm hand. The album pays respect to what Sleater-Kinney meant to us in the 1990s while creating new emotional bonds between the artist and the listener that embody how we feel today.

Release: 16th August 2019, Caroline International

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