“The Center Won’t Hold”

Sleater-Kinney never came off as a band who could do a “weird” record. “The Center Won’t Hold” is a unique record in its apparition-like influences—St. Vincent’s production has almost completely overridden the energy and power previous Sleater-Kinney records cultivated so well. However, the synth-driven, post-punk/indie pop vibes aren’t too far off from Sleater-Kinney’s capabilities. Of course, “The Center Won’t Hold” suffers from over-production, but the change in direction comes off as refreshing, despite the irritation many critics have toward it.

This is the first time The National have made a forgettable record. Maybe it’s the collection of so many guest artists bogging down their sound, or maybe the band has finally started to lose steam. Something feels missing, though; a band like The National have always seemed like a constant reminder that music can be consistently done right without beating a dead horse. “I Am Easy to Find” contains nothing out of the ordinary, either; the melodies are exactly what I’d want from them. But maybe, without the band even knowing, they lost their spark. I only wonder where.

The problem with writing debut albums is that often bands try to create a new identity for themselves. SeeYouSpaceCowboy, a San Diego mathcore band, foregoes their sassy, energetic, and technically proficient sound of their prior EPs for a forced, fake, “dark” aesthetic in the attempt to be profound on their debut, “The Correlation Between Entrance and Exit Wounds.” (I mean, look at that ridiculously long title.) Now, they sound like every early 2000s metalcore band—if it were fifteen years ago, I’d call this record phenomenal. But for 2019, the unique qualities of SeeYouSpaceCowboy have been lost for the sake of remaining “relevant.”

I’ve never seen such an odd divide emanate from side A and side B of a record until I read discussion boards about “Sea of Worry,” by post-punk band Have a Nice Life. The first half is what the band does best: post-punk beats with foggy distortion. Incidentally, the second half of the record is drone/ambient, in which the songs prolong over sheer atmosphere and choir-like vocals. So, it makes sense to me that many listeners feel as if they have to choose a side. As per Have a Nice Life’s prior efforts, the transition doesn’t come off as startling, though. But even reorganizing the tracks could have saved the band from such a love-it-or-hate-it kind of release. 

There’s never been a band more middling for me than Russian Circles. Since 2005, the post-rock/metal group has become the epitome of creating the quintessential “not great but not terrible” catalogue. This year’s “Blood Year” is no exception: the atmosphere, structure, and technicality are still well and strong, but Russian Circles have basically made the same record for over a decade. Is there anything wrong with that? No and yes. It’s so easy to put this band on shuffle and then forget about them 45 minutes later. Nothing the band creates is offensive, but neither is it breathtaking.