Sleater-Kinney Are Still Here to Subvert, With a New Album and Aesthetic

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Twenty-five years ago, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein formed punk band Sleater-Kinney, galvanizing the late-’90s riot grrrl scene and propelling the ethos of the socio-musical movement into the 2000s. From their 1997 heartbreak opus, Dig Me Out, to 2005’s equal parts experimental and psychedelic The Woods, their records have offered women catharsis by way of disarmingly raw lyrics and thrashing sounds. Their new album, The Center Won’t Hold, is no exception—and yet it marks an entirely new chapter for Sleater-Kinney’s founding duo. (Longtime drummer Janet Weiss announced her departure shortly before its release, citing the band’s “new direction” as her reasoning.)

There’s The Center Won’t Hold’s increasingly political, post-#MeToo messaging, with its exquisitely warped sound courtesy of St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark), and a striking, directional aesthetic conceptualized in collaboration with designer Humberto Leon and Black Frame’s Brian Phillips. “We wanted to create a rumination on anger, fear, and sadness and how those feelings affect a body,” explains Brownstein over the phone. “In each song, we wanted the characters to have a really personal story and feel the weight of the times that we’re living in right now. Those experiences are through the lens of a female experience, a queer experience, and the way that that impacts our character.”

Visually, this new period is encompassed in the album’s artwork, which consists of collaged close-ups of Tucker, Brownstein, and Weiss, their eyes encased in graphic black eyeliner designs. “Humberto and Brian set out to make a visual aesthetic that really spoke to a kind of feminine power,” Tucker says. “It was Humberto’s idea, and he really wanted us to try this dramatic makeup to heighten the drama of the photos.” The punkishly encased eye is a motif that’s fluid, emblazoned on their guitar picks, cherry-red vinyl records, and clear cassette tapes. According to the pair, the jumping-off point for their striking above-neck statements was a mood board with a mix of gothic imagery and photographs of 1970s performance artists such as Martha Rosler and Carolee Schneemann. “We wanted to create a central location where everyone could add their ideas and pull references,” says Brownstein. “We looked for the commonalities, and it all tended to exalt the grotesque, so the aesthetic had to be dark, divided, and even a little unsettling at times. We knew we were presenting ourselves in a way that would be new for some people. We were willing to push things a little bit to surprise people and give something unexpected in the visuals.”

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