Sleater-Kinney: Little Rope

It’s a strange time to be a Sleater-Kinney fan. Four years after a ten-year hiatus that ended in 2015 with the release of the band’s exceptional comeback album No Cities to Love, aficionados of the Washington trio were hit with the news that Janet Weiss, Sleater-Kinney’s drummer for twenty-three years, would be leaving the group. Little Rope is the band’s eleventh studio album and their second since Weiss’ departure. John Congleton, who won a grammy for his work on St. Vincent’s self-titled 2015 album, produced Little Rope, an album with lyrics that deal with “global crisis and personal tragedy.”

“Hell”, Little Rope’s opening track and first single, builds slowly with eerie synths and a guitar strummed as if it’s a doomy, tolling bell. “Hell is desperation, and a young man with a gun,” Carrie Brownstein says sadly just before the song’s chorus explodes with the guitarist and singer delivering her familiar, passionate wail. “Needlessly Wild” is stylistically reminiscent of the work Brownstein did with the freewheeling side project Wild Flag. Here, Carrie utilizes an exaggerated vocal style not unlike that of Missing Persons’ Dale Bozzio. Many of Sleater-Kinney’s best songs deal with heartbreak, and “Say It Like You Mean It” is a standout moment on Little Rope that earns its place among them. Although the drumming is mostly rote, the song is structured to emphasize an emotional punch with synths running through that pull at the listener’s heartstrings.

Little Rope sags a bit in the middle with the back-to-back ill-fitting numbers “Small Finds” and “Don’t Feel Right”. The former is a quirky song with herky-jerky guitars and a vocal take that has Carrie attempting something akin to Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. The latter comes across as comparatively shallow lyrically as Brownstein lists things she’ll do once she’s “fixed” (read more poems, learn to cook etc.). The album finds its footing again with “Crusader”, a deep cut in the sequence that has Sleater-Kinney taking direct aim at self-righteous conservative groups who seek to ban books and “vilify and minimize us.”

“Untidy Creature” makes for a decent album ender with Brownstein pulling out all the stops vocally as she delivers the song’s refrain the way a singer-songwriter from the 1970s might. The concluding track’s moving chorus has Carrie’s voice soaring as she sings, “and it feels like we were broken, and I’m holding the pieces so tight, you can try to tell me I’m nothing, and I don’t have the wings to fly, but there’s too much here that’s unspoken, and there’s no tomorrow in sight, could you love me if I was broken, and there’s no going back tonight.”

It’s hard to imagine Little Rope being someone’s first introduction to Sleater-Kinney. One wonders if there are enough compelling moments here to entice a new listener, who has yet to experience the high highs of works like Call the Doctor and Dig Me Out, to explore the band’s largely excellent back catalog. After Carrie and Corin finally decide to call it quits, Little Rope won’t be included in the discussion of the group’s most iconic records. But in this moment, the band’s latest effort is Sleater-Kinney’s way of stubbornly saying, regardless of recent shakeups, we’re still here and our band still matters.

Rating: 7.0/10

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