Sleater-Kinney‘s new album Little Rope carries some weight, coming in the aftermath of Carrie Brownstein losing her mother and stepfather in a car accident. The record explores that grief, but it never finds itself restricted. For their 11th album together, Brownstein and Corin Tucker (drummer Janet Weiss departed the group in 2019) focus their energy on ten rockers while exploring a breadth of emotional and political content. With careful arrangements, sharp production from John Congleton, and stunning lyrics, Little Rope marks another peak in the storied band’s career.
The pair (supplemented by significant contributors like drummer Angie Boylan) start right in the heart of it all with opener and lead single “Hell”. A few guitar chords back, the description of Hell, which we soon learn “is just a place that we can’t seem to live without”. That mood persists throughout Little Rope, with loss and uncertainty permeating the recordings. Sleater-Kinney never indulge anything so simple as nihilism on unmitigated despair, though. The record might be set in a sort of hell, but much of it involves responding to the tumult without caving in.
“Needlessly Wild” approaches Krautrock in its direct drive (Weiss would make less sense here than at other points), and the track’s hints at recklessness remain perfectly within its strictures, letting occasional vocal moments push against the song’s formal order. “I’m aggressively fun / Death of the party / A lectures for one” doesn’t scream chaos. That’s part of the point. The abandon doesn’t get the singer anywhere: “There’s nowhere to climb.” In the end, hate undoes itself, wildness burns on its own fury, and there’s only one recourse: the request to “feed me to the hounds tonight”.
These first two numbers might suggest a collapse into the void, but Sleater-Kinney battle against that fall. “Dress Yourself” finds resistance within the quotidian. Brownstein sings a line that captures both a weighty demand and a small victory of sorts: “Get up girl / And dress yourself / In clothes you love / For a world you hate.” The lyrics reveal a struggle for balance. How much do we reveal our true selves? How much can we rally around performing basic tasks? Brownstein looks for “a reason” and “a remedy” as she seeks insight into lingering pain. Her delivery through the outro makes it clear that the yearning for something else persists and that desire can lift more than we might expect.
Given our burdens, even that much reprieve feels necessary. “Don’t Feel Right” provides one of the album’s most straightforward rockers, but the musical bounce covers the lyrical pain. “Drive around, drown the pain out / Warped from grief, can’t go home / I don’t feel right, that’s all I know,” Brownstein sings. Little Rope‘s struggle to get through difficult times doesn’t remove the grief or the isolation, and Sleater-Kinney pushes through and into these feelings. It’s all a mess out there and in here, too, and Little Rope acknowledges that complexity with unrelenting focus.
“Untidy Creature”, the first song written for Little Rope, finishes the record almost in summation. The song’s heavy guitar riff makes way for Tucker’s initially steady vocals. She sings about the need to escape the box she’s been put in, seen as an “untidy creature that you can’t push around”. The song has political implications, but as Tucker’s singing builds, the personal side of the song comes to the fore, her wordless yell making all of it clear, even if unspoken. Little Rope shuts down with that cry and a guitar. Maybe nothing has been resolved throughout the record, but Sleater-Kinney achieves something impressive with their statement, making for their best album in years.