Album review: Sleater-Kinney – Little Rope

Influential alt.rock duo Sleater-Kinney tackle grief with grace and volume on 11th studio album.

Album review: Sleater-Kinney – Little Rope
George Garner

Sleater-Kinney’s new album wastes no time situating the listener in a particularly fiery postcode. As opening track Hell switches from its haunted intro to full-on quaking distortion, Corin Tucker sings of young men brandishing guns, of looking into the mirror only to see ‘a stranger looking back’. The horrors of our present day alone warrants the decidedly unambiguous title, but it takes on an altogether different resonance when you factor in that Carrie Brownstein tragically lost both her mother and stepfather to a car crash midway through the album’s recording sessions. Little Rope is not always an easy listen, but it is a brilliant one.

It would be wrong to call this a return to form, given that’s something S-K have never lost. What is true, however, is that since reuniting with 2015’s astounding No Cities To Love, the band have parted ways with beloved drummer Janet Weiss and blazed new trails. On 2019’s The Center Won’t Hold they embraced St.Vincent-assisted experimentalism, while 2021’s The Path Of Wellness was a captivating, but more tranquilised affair than normal.

These albums weren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Little Rope, however, should be. It’s a return to rock with a capital 'R'. In fact, make that three capital 'R's. At one point, Six Mistakes sounds like it’s imploding with fuzz and distortion. Needlessly Wild, meanwhile, lives up to its name, boasting some eccentric pronunciations (wild = 'wi-yuuuuld') and lines like ‘I’m aggressively fun, death of the party, a lecture for one’. Even after all these years, the combination of Corin and Carrie’s crisscrossing guitar lines, dovetailing vocals and witticisms remain entirely unique.

For an album so coloured by loss, it’s worth saying that Little Rope is far from one-dimensional in its approach. One of S-K’s greatest parlour tricks here is the deceptive way their music often radically contrasts in feel with the power of the words. It may wrongfoot some listeners, but Hunt You Down, Say It Like You Mean and Crusader are blessed not only with raw emotion but groove.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the vulnerability of the lyrics that arrest the most here. On Don’t Feel Right we hear of trying to overcome being ‘warped by grief’ by tackling a small list of things to do (‘Read more poems, ditch half my meds’). Elsewhere, Dress Yourself – a vivid meditation on depression, written before Carrie lost her mother and step-father – expands on this, detailing how hard it can be just to present yourself to the world some days.

Already an impressive standalone single, when heard in context as the album’s grandstanding closer, Untidy Creature only gains power. After the fuzzy synths and guitar fade out, Corin sings, ‘Looking at me like a problem to solve, like an untidy creature that you can’t push around’ over soft keys. It’s one of their finest moments to date.

Yes, Sleater-Kinney are in Hell. But they’re stronger for it.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Bikini Kill, Skating Polly, The Linda Lindas

Little Rope is released on January 19 via Loma Vista

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