Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Little Rope proves Sleater-Kinney still have stories to tell

"Little Rope"

Release date: 19 January 2024
Sleater Kinney Little Rope cover
17 January 2024, 11:00 Written by Tom Williams

“We prioritise making things that feel really vital”, said Sleater-Kinney in a recent interview.

It’s a principle that runs through their most iconic hits – be it the terrifying depiction of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge on “Jumpers”, fit with chilling cries of “four seconds was the longest wait”, or Corin Tucker’s confrontation of her newborn son’s health issues on “Sympathy”, where she wailed “for the mommies who are left with their heart breaking”.

It’s a principle that also runs through Little Rope’s spine-chilling opener “Hell”, a meditation on nihilism that expands into swirls of frenetic, crunchy guitar playing as Corin Tucker howls “you ask why like there’s no tomorrow” in hair-raising fashion.

The song, which also served as the lead single to the band’s eleventh album, marked a departure from 2021’s Path of Wellness. That album was the band’s first since drummer Janet Weiss’s departure and largely abandoned the maximalist urgency of their back catalogue for some classic rock swagger. “Sleater-Kinney come back chill”, was one critic’s verdict.

Little Rope was inspired by both our current apocalyptic political environment and by personal tragedy in Carrie Brownstein’s life - while in the midst of the album’s creation, Brownstein received the news that her mother and stepfather were killed in a car crash. In interviews, Brownstein has spoken about how playing the guitar helped her navigate through grief and how her loss inspired to make the album heavier and darker than it had originally been.

Such is evident not only on “Hell”, but on the closer “Untidy Creature” - an ode to escaping constraints that is defined by battered hope and tightly wound, loud guitar riffs. The best Sleater-Kinney songs jolt you awake and shake you to the core, and while “Untidy Creature” takes its time to reach such heights, reach them it does. The song’s final leg, which is filled with wordless cries from Corin Tucker backdropped by some of Brownstein’s most captivating guitar work, stands among the band’s most cathartic achievements.

But make no mistake, this is still not the Sleater-Kinney of old, and longtime fans of the band who were previously left wanting by the band’s work post-Weiss are unlikely to be entirely won over by Little Rope. Much of the urgency that defined LPs like 2015’s No Cities to Love and 2005’s The Woods has been diminished – as evidenced on “Say It Like You Mean”, which often promises to burst into more visceral forms but ultimately remains stuck in an adult-contemporary rut. Across the LP, the drumming remains comparatively muted to the electrifying, frenzied work that Weiss once delivered, and the overlapping of Brownstein and Tucker’s vocals - which was once a definitive feature of the band’s work - remains absent here.

Some might dismiss Little Rope’s weaker moments as the result of a band reeling from the departure of a pivotal member and fraying under the weight of two decades of creating music (the band formed 30 years ago but took a nine-year hiatus after 2005’s The Woods). However, the Sleater-Kinney’s recent live shows have demonstrated an enduring ability to replicate the deafeningly loud, insistent and urgent energy of their 90s and 2000s output.

As such, the ultimate sound and energy of Little Rope seems intentional - the duo’s departure from their previously established winning formula, a conscious choice rather than a regretful necessity. And, while it is sure to further alienate some, it remains genuinely exciting to see the band looking ahead and continuing to surprise. “Crusader”, the most directly political song here, offers both a sharp rebuke of Republican-driven book bans (“You’re burning all the books in this town…if we’re wicked, then you’re wretched”) and one of Little Rope’s most compelling melodies. “Needlessly Wild” proves similarly engaging, as the band manage to make total exhaustion (“I’m glitched and unwired / I’m totally tired”) somehow sound thrilling.

Meanwhile, “Hunt You Down”, proves central to the album’s narrative - a song of contrasts that alternates between humorous confessions and worldly wisdom. “I’ve been down so long / I pay rent to the floor”, splutters Carrie Brownstein, whose swaggering sing-speak delivery remains as singular and captivating as ever. Before long, the song gives way to a cautious refrain: “The things you fear the most / Will hunt you down”. In the end, Sleater-Kinney’s ongoing evolution may divide opinion, but there’s no doubt that this is a band that still has important stories to tell.

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