Sleater-Kinney Admit 'The Center Won't Hold'

Photo: Nikko LaMere / Courtesy of BT PR

Amid sonic changes and a sudden departure, Sleater-Kinney tackle challenging issues and find a way forward on The Center Won't Hold.

The Center Won't Hold

Mom + Pop Music

16 August 2019

By the time Sleater-Kinney's The Center Won't Hold was released, the cat was out of the bag, and the drummer was out of the band (after finishing recording the album). The Yeats reference obviously came to the fore, but according to Janet Weiss, the only thing that fell apart was that "the band is moving in a new direction". The drummer had held long enough, it seems, and the band certainly moves in a new direction with this one, at least somewhat due to Annie Clark (better known as St. Vincent) and her shiny production. Title, drummer, Yeats, or not, Sleater-Kinney still retains its core attitude and sharp lyricism.

The change in sound comes immediately, with an industrial-influenced beat to the album's title track. Synths create much of the texture of the album. "Bad Dance" heads directly to the dancefloor. Everything sounds a little squarer, a little steadier than the group's typical music. You can imagine a line in which the Yeah Yeah Yeahs listened to Sleater-Kinney, went to some clubs, and then Sleater-Kinney, in turn, listened to what came out. The group shifts from its punk and indie rock focus into more of a post-punk sound.

The rigidity makes sense. Singers Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein concern themselves with the body, not just as an idea but as a tangible entity. The music circumscribes the thinking to give it shape, a definite position to hold. "Reach Out" tries to realize through touch that "my body is my own again", but other tracks grapple with ambivalence about embodiment. On "Hurry on Home", Brownstein speaks suggestively to a lover, but her come-on gets tied up in an assortment of issues. "Disconnect me from my bones / So I can float, so I can roam / Disconnect me from my skin," she sings, disinhabiting the body that brings connection. On other tracks, mirrors and digital devices serve as sources of alienation.

The Center Won't Hold feels bleak at times and ends with brokenness, a song of hurt referencing Christine Blasey Ford and existential questions arise throughout the album. Sleater-Kinney won't leave it at that, though. On "LOVE", the band's ode to its history, Brownstein could be resigned in singing, "There's nothing more frightening and nothing more obscene / Than a well-worn body demanding to be seen," but she dismisses the whole idea. Old bodies are triumphs. Of course, they are. In "Restless", we learned that "I've learned to love the ugliest things / Like you and me, and me and you."

The group acknowledge over and over in that first track that "the center won't hold". That's fine. If things fall apart, you still push forward. You take that broken body and praise the ugliness that someone wants to find in it. In isolation, you find the touch that brings form where there was void. You embrace the physical when you're in it, and you escape it when necessary. "I need you more than I ever have / Because the future's here, and we can't go back," says the chorus to "The Future Is Here". It doesn't matter whether that future looks good or bad. Either way, The Center Won't Hold is a surprising path for taking an honest look at things, holding it together, and moving on.







Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.


Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.


Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.


'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.


Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".


12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.


Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.


Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.


Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".


Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.