Sleater-Kinney : Little Rope

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Sleater-Kinney Little Rope review

Sleater-Kinney aren’t the same band they once were. They wouldn’t have earned their status as one of the greatest American bands of the 21st century by running in place, though their willingness to push themselves outside of their comfort zone hasn’t always been met with universal praise. Their stylistic turn toward flashier aesthetics and questionable press photos on 2019’s The Center Won’t Hold resulted in the most pronounced divide between advocates and antagonists; it also splintered the band, resulting in the departure of longtime drummer Janet Weiss. In context, 2021’s Path of Wellness might be seen as something of an overcorrection, more muted in tone, explicitly distanced from the electronic veneer of its predecessor, and as the group soldiered forth as a duo, the dynamic has changed from that of three musicians in thrillingly volatile chemistry to a pair of songwriters increasingly embracing a form of songwriting less defined by the incendiary musicality at its core.

And yet, Sleater-Kinney are essentially the same band they’ve been since the release of their 1995 self-titled debut. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker are the only two permanent members of the band, having cycled through two different drummers before Weiss joined in 1996, providing the essential element that propelled them from being a promising band to one of the best of their generation. Their eleventh album, Little Rope, is the second in a row built around this core duo, a return to form in ethos if not entirely in practice, reinforcing their strengths as a no-frills rock band while never straying far from the darkness that surrounds this set of songs.

The most mournful album in Sleater-Kinney’s catalog, Little Rope arrives following the tragic death of both of Brownstein’s parents in a car accident in Italy. The songs were already written—a devastating coincidence that’s befallen other artists—but the tone changed. The ecstatic experimentation of The Centre Won’t Hold was out, the atypical arrangements of Path of Wellness weren’t in the cards, and instead the duo went back to basics, recording with a more straightforward guitar-guitar-drums approach (with producer/drummer John Congleton providing the beats). It’s not exactly the classic representation of Sleater-Kinney, but it’s close; on leadoff track “Hell,” they still start together, but notably, it’s just the two of them.

Brownstein and Tucker strike a balance between sinister groove, eruptive anxiety and quiet desperation on Little Rope. Despite its somber beginnings, “Hell” finds the duo pushing the plunger and blowing open an explosive array of squealing riffs and pleas for salvation (“You ask why like there’s no tomorrow“). By contrast, “Say It Like You Mean It” more closely resembles a straightforward radio alt-rock song, yet Tucker has the vocal power to really sell it. “Hunt You Down” and “Six Mistakes” lean heavier on menacing grooves, each of them a dark horse standout, while closer “Untidy Creature” is the most gut-wrenching, Tucker singing, “It feels like we’re broken, and I’m holding the pieces so tight.” There’s a conviction and resolve in her voice that suggests however hopeless the situation really is, there’s no choice but to keep going.

Label: Loma Vista

Year: 2024

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Sleater-Kinney Little Rope review

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