Sometimes great music is borne out of the darkest of times. Sleater-Kinney’s eleventh album ‘Little Rope‘ is one tinged with both loss and hope. Sadly Carrie Brownstein’s mum and stepdad were killed in a car accident whilst on holiday in Italy in 2022, and the process of grief led Brownstein to seek solace in playing guitar, admitting she hadn’t spent that much time just working on guitar since she was a teenager. It was a case of finding normality in such an abnormal situation. Although some of the songs which formed ‘Little Rope’ were already written, they were given an extra gravitas by such a tragic event, but that doesn’t mean this is a record without uplifting moments, as Sleater-Kinney’s knack for writing catchy melodies interspersed with spiky guitar lines runs like a beautiful sonic mountain range throughout the album, with lyrics reflecting on loss (’Hell’) and relationship breakdown (‘Say It Like You Mean It’), amongst other themes tackled here.

The band have always enjoyed pushing against any expectations of what a Sleater-Kinney album should be, with each album seemingly a departure from the last. 2021’s album ‘Path Of Wellness’ found them self-producing, full of brilliant angular riffs and huge pop choruses, that album itself was an about turn from the one before, 2019’s ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ produced by Annie Clark aka St Vincent, with its atmospheric pop meets guitar rock veins pulsating throughout. ‘Little Rope’ is another about turn for the two vocalists/guitarists Carrie Brownstein and Corrin Tucker, not so much in sound but more in approach and attitude with producer John Congleton on board, lending another perspective.

A sense of urgency prevails in the emotive vocal delivery and choppy melodies of opener ‘‘Hell’ which has finds Carrie pondering “hell needs no invitation, hell don’t make no fuss, hell is desperation” over distorted guitar and ferocious drumbeats whereas ‘Needlessly Wild’ has the guitars cranked up and a punk attitude in its melodic delivery. ‘Say It Like You Mean It’ has a hugely melodic chorus interspersed with atmospheric riffs, the two guitars providing a sonic landscape with Tucker pleading “say it, say it like you mean it, cos goodbye hurts when you go”, whereas the electro pulsating beats of ‘Crusader’ with it’s razor sharp riffs and melodies has a disco vibe underpinning its guitar grooves. There’s more melodic fervour in ‘Dress Yourself’ with both singing “give me the reason, give me the remedy, give me a new word for the old hate inside of me”.

For every spiky guitar line and lyric, as in ‘Hunt You Down’ with its refrains of “the thing you fear the most will hunt you down”, there’s a brighter riposte with the upbeat riffs of ‘Don’t Feel Right’ to smooth away the shards, even if the lyrics still reside in a less than positive place with “don’t hang around, I’m a real let down”. Each tune on Little Rope, has the duality of Brownstein’s and Tucker’s vocals shining through, whether harmonising or providing the perfect answering line to the other’s main output, it’s the sonic core of Sleater-Kinney’s glorious sound.

Sleater-Kinney’s songs always sound like they’re pushing forward into a guitar landscape which could erupt and crumble at any moment, yet they always manage to hold each tune together with enough of a melodic hook, often a huge earworm of a chorus or riff, resulting in something which fizzes with intrigue and keeps your ears hungry for more. From the darkest of times, there’s often a ferocious desire to fight back, perhaps to confound expectations, and with ‘Little Rope’ Sleater-Kinney have done both – a dazzling triumph over tragedy.

Sleater-Kinney: Little Rope – Out 19th January 2024 (Loma Vista Recordings)

From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.