“High stakes are something you can’t fake,” said Carrie Brownstein to this reviewer in an early interview for this eleventh full-length from Sleater-Kinney. “And when the stakes are high, music and art take on a different form entirely.” Emotionally speaking, there couldn’t have been much more riding on these ten songs for Brownstein and long-time collaborator Corin Tucker by the time they came to record them; after the shock of losing her mother and stepfather in a fatal car crash in Italy in late 2022, the guitarist sought refuge in the studio, making an album that was largely written in the months leading up to her suffering such a profound loss.
Said grief informs nearly every aspect of how Little Rope feels. It blends the pop sensibilities that the group have embraced since 2019’s The Center Won’t Hold with the kind of exposed-nerve punk restlessness that defined The Hot Rock and the experiments with groove and melody of their 2015 comeback record, No Cities to Love. This means we get the Tucker of old on lead single ‘Hell’, with towering vocals worthy of The Woods, and then a side of her we’ve never heard before on the gorgeous pseudo-ballad ‘Say It Like You Mean It’.
Brownstein, meanwhile, largely lets her guitar do the talking, with some of the most palpably emotive playing of her life informing the likes of the taut, nervy ‘Hunt You Down’, the untamed glam swagger of ‘Crusader’ and, crucially, the sweeping drama of epic closer ‘Untidy Creature’. Much has been made of what Sleater-Kinney now lack since the departure of drummer Janet Weiss, but Little Rope should bring the focus back to what they still have; genuine magic, in the form of the shared musical language that Tucker and Brownstein have spent thirty years developing. The latter has harnessed it here, to turn personal tragedy into deeply cathartic artistic triumph.