"Little Rope is a defiant message of perseverance from a band who never followed the rules": riot-grrrl legends Sleater-Kinney work through their grief on 11th album

Born out of darkness and grief, Little Rope is an album firmly focussed on the light at the end of the tunnel

Little Rope
(Image: © Loma Vista)

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Grief is a shadow looming in the background of Little Rope, the 11th studio album from riot-grrrl legends Sleater-Kinney. In the midst of recording, Carrie Brownstein lost her mother and stepfather in a car accident, a loss which is palpable in the dark corners of the album. With the band stripped back to founding duo Brownstein and Corin Tucker - long-time drummer Janet Weiss having exited in 2019 -  Little Rope leans further into the mature sound that S-K been cultivating over the last decade without forgetting the sharp-edged delivery of their riotous early days.

This overarching sense of grief is reflected in the more sombre musical moments of the album, like the sparse, almost gothic verses of Hell that give way to the frenzied chorus. Later, this darkness manifests itself in the suffocating noise-rock of Six Mistakes, in which the droning guitars and funereal piano mirror the anxious self-doubt of the lyrics. On Dress Yourself, Tucker urges, “Get up girl and dress yourself / In clothes you love for a world you hate.” Whether picking yourself up from rock bottom or forcing yourself to fit into the confines of the modern world, it’s an all-too-relatable message.

Sleater-Kinney have always favoured harsh, uncomfortable delivery in Tucker’s wailing vocals and their sharp, frenzied guitars. Songs like the chaotic Needlessly Wild and the discordant, abrasive feel of Small Finds build on the rough-edged approach they’re known for with the addition of darker, more mature sounds. Instead of making Little Rope sound uncharacteristically polished, it instead intensifies their technique, making their music all the more claustrophobic in a way that forces you to pay attention to what they have to say. But even in Little Rope’s most serious moments, there’s still a sense of musical playfulness in the way that Tucker and Brownstein play guitar. There’s a feeling of experimentation, of playing for pure enjoyment down to the most simple riff.

There are a few surprises along the way, too, with Don’t Feel Right, the most upbeat sound on the album with light-hearted riffs and controlled vocals and the soft, post-punk instrumentation of Say It Like You Mean It. On the latter, Tucker pleads for a moment of calm amongst the chaos when she sings “Go softly with me, my heart is raw / Too many losses have let me down”.

Thirty years after their formation, Sleater-Kinney are still changing and evolving as a band, and it's to their credit that they still can surprise us eleven albums in to their storied career.  While Little Rope fits comfortably in the modern post-punk landscape, it’s also clear that Sleater-Kinney have made this music for themselves first and foremost, taking ownership of darkness and tragedy as they find catharsis in the chaos. As much a journey through grief as an album, Little Rope is a defiant message of perseverance from a band who never followed the rules.

Freelance writer, Louder

In addition to contributing to Louder, Vicky writes for The Line of Best Fit, Gigwise, New Noise Magazine and more.