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Sleater-Kinney Remains a Force in the Music World

In its second album since hiatus, the Olympia band showcases some new flair

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Sleater-Kinney is no stranger to politics. As one of the Riot Grrrl pioneer bands, it has embroiled itself in political punk since the very beginning. So, it's no surprise that the band's newest release, The Center Won't Hold, has notable political undertones. The surprise, rather, is the sound adopted by the band departs from previous works.

The album is dark in some places, poppy in others, and ends with a simple piano track, "Broken," which is a heartfelt tribute to Christine Blasey-Ford's testimony against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh. The record is still recognizable as a Sleater-Kinney project, but it does showcase a sense of ingenuity and desire to create something meaningful while retaining the political leanings of previous works.

"We really wanted to have voices and characters that were responding to the kind of catastrophe of the Trump election," Guitarist Corin Tucker, one of the band's founders, told Boise Weekly. "We felt like that was such a terrible place for our country to go."

Sleater-Kinney is embarking on tour promoting the album, with a pit stop at Boise's Knitting Factory Friday, Oct. 11. The band is joined by Las Vegas-based songwriter Shamir.

"There's a lot of different voices that are kind of angry, and playful, and some of them are enjoying the chaos," Tucker said of the album.

The political climate that sprouted from the Trump election lit a fire under Sleater-Kinney, resulting in The Center Won't Hold. The band had something to say, and it made key members Tucker and Carrie Brownstein excited to make a record, Tucker said. Still, the motivation behind the music is, effectively, the same as it has been for years.

"It brings us a lot of joy, it's an important creative outlet in our lives," she said. "That still is the driving force for us today."

The standout tracks from the record are "Reach Out," a melodious synthesizer track, the lyrics of which hint at recovering body autonomy after trauma, and "LOVE"—which served as one of the singles before the full album was released. While both tracks maintain the Sleater-Kinney snarl of previous albums, the influence of producer Annie Clark, also known by her stage name, St. Vincent, is most pronounced.

"I think that Annie really pushed us to try different things, to go really big with our ideas," Tucker said. "She really wanted to expand on our ideas that we had."

For example, on "LOVE," Clark opted for a bottom-up approach, building the track entirely around a single guitar riff. As a result, "LOVE" manages to stand out as a thoughtful, whole song on its own while seamlessly weaving into the record as a whole.

Clark, who has been friends with Brownstein and Tucker for years, was originally brought on as a guest-producer after expressing interest to the band about trying her hand at producing, rather than writing, albums. However, her vision proved to be exactly what Sleater-Kinney needed for this record, so they invited her to produce the whole album, top to bottom.

"She was so great and had so many great ideas," Tucker said. "We got a lot done in those five days, we got like four songs done. It was crazy how productive it was."

Clark's own music is unique, dark and melodious, and her influence is heard throughout the duration of the record. It not only speaks to the talent of the people involved, but the avenues open to women in music, many of which were opened, in part, by artists such as Sleater-Kinney and Clark.

The album, in and of itself, is a political statement. It's made by women and produced by women who are angry and unafraid to say so. In that sense, the band is doing what it's always done, which is create music in a space often dominated by white men.

"There's a lot more variety and difference in women making music," Tucker said. "There's so many different ways that people can express themselves and go about making music."