Sleater-Kinney explore new sonic directions, but their core remains the same on The Center Won’t Hold | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Sleater-Kinney explore new sonic directions, but their core remains the same on The Center Won’t Hold

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If you were a young American feminist in the late 90s or early 00s with a penchant for punk and indie rock, there’s a good chance you grew up listening to Sleater-Kinney. Formed by guitarist-vocalists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein in 1994 and completed by longtime drummer Janet Weiss in 1996, the group spent their first decade delivering increasingly adventurous albums that merge vibrant guitar interplay and dynamic drumming with smart, sometimes intimate, sometimes biting lyrics. As they developed their sound and their fan base, they brought subjects such as gender expectations, queer romance, and feminist consciousness out of progressive punk circles and into more mainstream realms long before the likes of Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Lizzo (who opened Sleater-Kinney’s 2015 tour) rode them into the Top 40. After 2005’s lush The Woods, the trio disbanded, only to come back even stronger a decade later with the glorious No Cities to Love. The band’s recent ninth record, The Center Won’t Hold (produced by St. Vincent), tones down Sleater-Kinney’s more frenetic indie-rock tendencies in favor of a pronounced pop slickness that foregrounds a simmering electronic pulse. That change in direction, along with Weiss’s departure just weeks before the album’s release (the band recruited Angie Boylan of Aye Nako as a replacement), has provoked some skepticism, but Sleater-Kinney have never stagnated from one release to the next—why would they start now, when there’s still new ground to explore? But as much as they stretch out into different sounds, their songwriting still captures themes and observations that could resonate with the fans that came of age alongside them. In an interview with Pitchfork’s Jenn Pelly, Brownstein describes the band’s desire to create music that speaks to the lived experiences of women of their generation: “We want this record to be a story of women who are in their 40s.” It seems natural that in 2019 an album based on that vision would take a darker turn than its predecessors—especially from a band who have spent their career fighting the good fight. The #MeToo movement went viral, but it’s barely made a dent in gender-based harassment and violence. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2015, but even as I type this the country awaits a Supreme Court ruling that could strip the LGBTQ+ population of many civil rights. Greta Thunberg has become a hero for speaking out about climate change—and in return she’s been mercilessly trolled online about her hair, her wardrobe, her youth, and her Asperger’s syndrome. As bleak and frustrating as the world might be, there’s plenty of fire and resilience on The Center Won’t Hold, between the quirky seduction-by-insecurities tune “Hurry on Home” and the smooth, dance-floor-ready “Reach Out.” The album isn’t without its missteps (“Ruins” suggests that Sleater-Kinney just might not be grimy enough to pull off industrial skeez), but it’s well worth meandering through all its twists and turns.   v

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