Home Geek LifeCulture Vinyl Me, Please August Edition: Sleater – Kinney ‘The Center Won’t Hold’

Vinyl Me, Please August Edition: Sleater – Kinney ‘The Center Won’t Hold’

by Patrick Phillips

Good things come in 12 inch packages. Delivering limited edition pressings of new and classic albums directly to your doorstep, Vinyl Me, Please operates under a simple philosophy: The Album Lives. With a carefully curated catalog of new and hard to find releases, the subscription service is more than just a record club, it’s a lifestyle choice for folks who wish Record Store Day could happen every month … in their living room.

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The Skinny

Here’s how it works. You send Vinyl Me, Please some of your hard-earned money (plans start at $25/month) and they send you one meticulously selected album they feel is an Essential addition to any record collection. Easy, right? Each custom pressing (often on colored vinyl!) also comes with killer special features like original artwork, informative booklets, and even a recipe for a companion cocktail. You’ll have membership privileges in the VMP shop too, which means you can grab a copy of previous VMP selections from the archives – including July’s first ever U.S. pressing of Jorge Ben’s 1976 Afro-Samba-Funk classic África Brasil – not to mention a bevy of rare releases pressed exclusively for the folks at Vinyl Me, Please. The store is open, and Team VMP are dropping fresh new selections to their stock every single week. Do not miss out.

Word to the wise, while the store is open to the public, most of its more covet-worthy stock is only available to members, so you’ve gotta sign up to get your mitts on them. If you’re peckish about relinquishing control of your record collection over to complete strangers, know that VMP’s Swaps Program is in full effect. That means you can flip any VMP pick you don’t like for a past AOM (or other VMP Exclusive pressings) that’s a little more your speed. My advice? Don’t overthink it. Do yourself a favor and sign up today.

So, what Essential pick did Vinyl Me, Please pack in the August box? Hope you brought your riot gear kids, ’cause the one and only Sleater – Kinney is fit to wreak a little havoc on your summer with their new album The Center Won’t Hold.

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Sleater - Kinney

Yeah, had to go in on that VMP Classics reissue of Al Green’s Call Me … because Al Green. Also because VMP members can “Add a Track” from month to month at super “friend” pricing ($23 instead of $34 and up) as they see fit … and sometimes one shiny new disc in your box just won’t cut it.

Also, be sure to check your box carefully every month, ’cause Team VMP has been on a serious swag kick lately, and they slid another slick little sticker into this month’s package. Though this one raises the serious questions as to whether or not Sleater – Kinney’s new disc will actually make it into heavy rotation. Keep reading to find out.  Sleater - Kinney

But wait, there’s more! Though it seems likely these other two stickers were included at the behest of the band itself.

For the Love of Music, Please DO NOT BEND

For those of you who are not familiar with Sleater – Kinney, I’ll go ahead and let you know that you’ve been missing out on one of the best catalogues of pure-bred, balls out rock & roll in existence. I’ll also tell you that The Center Won’t Hold is very much a new release from the band who spawned that rambunctious back catalogue – which naturally begs the question as to how a new release can be tagged an Essential album before the general public has even heard it in its entirety.

Point of fact, VMP’s insistence on tapping the occasional new release as an Essential has led even an adventurous music lover like me to take advantage of the Swaps program at times. Not that I think a new album can’t earn itself “instant essential” status, but because I tend to believe that the term “essential” means very different things to different people … especially when it comes to new releases. That being said, if there’s a single band on the planet whose new music demands to be heard by as many ears as possible, it’s Sleater – Kinney. Factor in that said music was produced by indie rock/pop darling St. Vincent, and The Center Won’t Hold at the very least becomes an instant “must hear” record.

Now, that last bit of info has proven to be more than a little divisive within the group’s steadfast band of long-time listeners, with half of them excited at the prospect of St. Vincent bringing a fresh energy to Sleater – Kinney’s particular brand of riot grrrl rock, and the other half worried that such a powerful persona might take the band too far away from their signature sound. Of that worry, I’d simply point out that savage, no bullshit rockers like Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss are not the sorts to be pushed around in the studio. It’s worth noting, however, that St. Vincent does indeed bring a rush of fresh sonic energy to The Center Won’t Hold, and that the result is … a bit uneven.

I’m not going to try to convince you that it’s a byproduct of potential inner-band strife (long time drummer Janet Weiss has officially left the band as of July), or that it’s the result of a hands-on producer taking too many liberties. More likely, it’s just the result of a band stretching their sound a bit too far beyond its parameters. To that point, The Center Won’t Hold ultimately feels like a legit power-punk trio setting out to make a full on art rock record. While the mix of styles at play throughout The Center Won’t Hold is often fascinating to experience, it leaves the album feeling more than a little bit disjointed, with Tucker & co. sandwiching a few slinky & savage Sleater – Kinney bangers between a handful of experimental, Devo-ish detours.

Those detours will no doubt come as a shock to fans expecting another straight up collection of riotously feminist punk rock ragers fueled by Tucker’s wild, trembling vocals, Brownstein’s thumping bass, and Weiss’ punishing drum lines. Rest assured, those elements are all in play, but what’ll come as an even bigger shock to long time fans is just how well Sleater – Kinney pull off the softer-edged, experimental deviations. Throughout the album, the band gamefully tempers their raucous sound, leaving their producer to balance The Center Won’t Hold‘s fiery, punk-tinged anthems with their more atmospheric, pop-forward counterparts. I wish I could say that St. Vincent and the band pulled that lofty task off, and while there really isn’t a bad song amongst the eleven tracks on The Center Won’t Hold, the album just never quite comes together as a cohesive whole … at least not on first listen.

Just FYI – I’d wholly recommend you listen to The Center Won’t Hold a few times before you judge it as a true Essential or not. While the parts of the album themselves may initially seem greater than the whole, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that whole may play a little smoother on repeat listenings. And you can get down with Sleater – Kinney getting way out there this late in their storied career, you’re likely to find The Center Won’t Hold a bold experiment in anti-pop posturing worthy of a band who built their legacy on exactly that.

Cover Matters 

Far be it for me to go and read too much into the cover art for The Center Won’t Hold, but given the current state of the band, one might be tempted to make a little more of the cracked collage of faces on that cover. Just sayin. Either way, it’s a legitimately stunning piece of cover art.

Sleater - Kinney

That being said, the folks at Vinyl Me, Please really dressed it up well with a touch of silvered foil stamping.

Don’t forget that stamping on the back either, ’cause how else are future generations gonna know Sleater – Kinney’s ninth studio album earned the title of Essential from Vinyl Me, Please.

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Just in case that label was in question, there’s this handy sticker to remind you that (whether you dig the album or not) this is the definitive pressing of The Center Won’t Hold.

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Once you’ve got that protective sleeve out of the way, be sure to have a gander at the little OBI-strip that’s wrapping the spine, because there are some vital stats there – like the album’s and band’s name, and the VMP catalogue number.

There are a few carefully chosen words on the other side detailing why Vinyl Me, Please felt The Center Won’t Hold is worthy of the Essential label.

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Of course, there’s also a recipe for the album’s companion cocktail – the aptly titled ‘The Center Won’t Hold Fizz’. ‘Cause who doesn’t enjoy having a tasty cocktail while spinning their favorite discs.

Slick new pressing of a worthy album aside, one of the cooler things Vinyl Me, Please does with each new month is to offer up an original, album inspired piece of artwork. Again, read into this fractured family portrait what you will … sigh, we’re gonna miss you Janet Weiss!

Sleater - Kinney

Just flip that pic over to learn about the artist who designed it.

Now, one might be tempted to skip right ahead to the fresh wax inside The Center Won’t Hold‘s slick, case-wrapped sleeve. That would be a mistake, if only because you’d probably glance over the killer photo and full lyric breakdown on the inside of that gatefold.

Sleater - KinneyThere’s also a printed inner sleeve protecting that vinyl. Sure, it’s not all that flashy, but there are a few album credits on the back … if you happen to care about that sort of thing.

Of the sexy ass wax in side … it’s very, very red. And for whatever reason, I can’t imagine it being any other color.

Sure, it might blend a little too well on a red deck, but I can assure you the the music will more than make it pop.

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How’s it sound? Like stumbling onto a diary from one of your favorite hard-rocking heroes and realizing about 20 pages in that yes, the rage is real, but it often pales in comparison to the fragile, fiery humanity that fuels it.

Give It a Spin

I’m gonna go ahead and posit that The Center Won’t Hold will easily claim the title of 2019’s most divisive album. Long time Sleater – Kinney fans will almost certainly find it a little too soft around the edges. Those fans are also likely to complain the album itself is grossly overproduced. Still, The Center Won’t Hold‘s slicker edges may well help make the Sleater – Kinney sound a bit more digestible for newcomers. And if a wave of new blood discovers the band’s anti-iconic, riot-inducing back catalogue as a result, well, who the hell are we to complain about that?

However they find their way to Sleater – Kinney, The Center Won’t Hold will surely stand as one of the band’s least cohesive efforts. That’s not a judgement on the songs themselves, ’cause there really isn’t a bad apple in the bunch here. The album just doesn’t meld together enough for one to lose oneself in a musty, mood-swing of an album that is The Center Won’t Hold. At least not on first listen. You’d better believe I fully intend to wear out a couple of grooves on this snazzy new VMP pressing in hopes of proving that theory. I highly recommend you do the same. And however you come to feel about The Center Won’t Hold, please understand that your record collection is wholly incomplete without at least one Sleater – Kinney album. Period.

A big THANK YOU to our friends at Vinyl Me, Please for sponsoring this subscription. Don’t forget to check out the official Vinyl Me, Please website and sign up to get some choice wax delivered right to your door each and every month! Can’t wait to see what funky treat is headed our way for September!

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