Album of the Week: Sleater-Kinney, 'The Center Won't Hold'

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Sleater-Kinney, 'The Center Won't Hold'
Sleater-Kinney, 'The Center Won't Hold' (Mom + Pop Music)

The Current's Album of the Week is the newest record from Sleater-Kinney, The Center Won't Hold.

There are two major plot threads that have enveloped The Center Won't Hold, and while the music certainly has merits all its own, it would seem disingenuous at this point to not at least note these factors surrounding the release.

In one of those instances that's eerie and/or prescient, depending on your stance on fate, the title of The Center Won't Hold wound up mirroring the trajectory of the band, as drummer Janet Weiss abruptly announced her departure from the band in early July. The timing of Weiss' move made it one of the most bewildering personnel changes in recent music memory: Weiss had participated fully in the recording sessions for the new album, appeared in artwork, and had even begun playing with the band in promotional appearances for the record. The totality and abruptness of her sudden absence sent shock waves through the music community.

The second major thread is the addition of St. Vincent's Annie Clark to the production table. Whereas Sleater-Kinney's work to this point has largely been centered around a basic guitar/bass/drums sound, the assumption (since proven to be correct) was that Clark would incorporate newer textures such as synths and keyboards.

When viewed through the prism of Clark taking on a central role to the band's recording process, Weiss' departure led many music fans to develop increasingly elaborate and bizarre theories behind the reasons for her departure. Anyone willing to chase these theories will find ample forums sprinkled across the internet; my hope here is to stick what we know, and that's that The Center Won't Hold is an interesting, occasionally frustrating album.

As could be expected, Clark's influence is apparent in many of the spacier-sounding tracks, such as "RUINS" or "The Future Is Here," the latter which in particular sports a vocal melody uncannily similar to something that would have appeared on the self-titled St. Vincent album. The synthesis probably reaches its apex on lead single "Hurry on Home," a delightfully goofy yet sexy romp that merrily lurches into the bedroom. For any rumors that Janet Weiss departed the band because her drum parts weren't dynamic enough, check out her thundering fills in this song to be proven wrong.

The mix of spaciness and brawn comes to a head in the title track, "The Center Won't Hold," which segues from Carrie Brownstein singing over a series of mysterious booms into her shouting the title phrase over a driving riff. It's both facets of the album in one track, and the haste with which it burns out leaves the listener a little baffled, yet ready to dive in again.

It's hard to view The Center Won't Hold through an objective lens, particularly in light of the band's rich and storied career, and the aforementioned personnel changes, but it's an album that bears out several hidden treasures, and seems destined to wind up on future lists of "Albums That Were Underrated At The Time."

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  • Burn, don't freeze: Sleater-Kinney on making art in the midst of change Sleater-Kinney's 'The Center Won't Hold' casts an uneasy gaze on technology and politics; it's also the band's last album with its longtime drummer. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker.
  • Drummer Janet Weiss leaves Sleater-Kinney 'The band is heading in a new direction and it is time for me to move on,' Weiss writes.
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  • Wild Flag perform live in The Current studio Althought they don't consider themselves such, they are a "supergroup" of sorts. Wild Flag, featuring ex-members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium and The Minders officially formed in 2010 after Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney) announced it on the NPR All Songs Considered blog. The all-female rock band based in Portland, Oregon and Washington D.C., released their debut "Glass Tambourines" on Record Store Day.

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