The latest and ninth album by American band Sleater-Kinney is a tempestuous yet stylish wonder that delves into both personal and sociopolitical issues.
One of the stalwarts of riot grrrl, the feminist punk movement that began in the United States in the early 1990s, the band have a trademark blend of urgency and style. This gets a polished update on The Center Won't Hold - thanks in no small part to production duties from alt-pop whiz St. Vincent.
Songs such as the danceable Can I Go On, marked by slinky guitars and throbbing synthesisers, tap into the anxieties of modern times. "Everyone I know is tired/But everyone I know is wired/To machines, it's obscene," they croon.
The Future Is Here paints a similarly bleak picture, digging into the dichotomy of how technology that is supposed to bring people closer is also tearing them apart. "I need you more than I ever have/ Because the future's here, and we can't go back," they sing amid guitar swells and droning rhythms.
The band have lost none of their pop sensibilities. The Dog/The Body, for example, boasts a radiant, singalong chorus that masks lyrics relaying the futility of staying on in a fractured relationship ("Baby, baby, baby, I don't mind/If you go, I'll be alone").
Reach Out, with its tension-building verses, explores vulnerability with a sincere plea ("Reach out, touch me, I'm stuck on the edge").
Other tracks tackling interpersonal relationships are less sombre.
INDIE ROCK/PUNK ROCK
THE CENTER WON'T HOLD
Mom + Pop Music
Rating: 4 Stars
Restless is a pretty yet melancholic ballad about accepting your significant other's imperfections ("My heart wants the ugliest things/But I've learned to love the ugliest things/Like you and me, and me and you"). So is the seductive Hurry On Home, with its surf-guitar riffs, modulated vocals and come-hither vibes.
There are times when they dial up the punk-rock fervour and let the noisy guitars rip in songs such as Bad Dance, a sharp dig at narcissistic and dodgy politicians ("My truth is slack and loose/My morals are unsound/But I'm amusing, I'm amazing, I'm impure").
The snazzy pop styling of Love celebrates the band's enduring presence and necessity ("And we can be rough, and we can be smooth/ There's nothing to hide and nothing to prove").
The irony is that the album also marks the last appearance of long-time drummer Janet Weiss. She left just a month before the album's release due to creative differences with singer-guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. The latter co-created and starred in Emmy-winning series Portlandia (2011 to 2018).