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The student news site of Carlisle High School

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The student news site of Carlisle High School

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Staff Profile

Tied in Grief: Sleater Kinney “Little Rope” (Review)

The+cover+of+the+album+Little+Rope.+
The cover of the album “Little Rope.”

Alternative rock icons, Sleater Kinney, returned on January 19, 2024 with Little Rope; a rapid thrust of songs blending pop sensibility and midlife angst. Grief is woven into the stitches of this album, primarily from songwriter and lyricist, Carrie Brownstein. Half of the lyrics written followed a tragic car crash that took the lives of her mother and stepfather and the other half were written before and were only intended for a new album concept. This results in a chaotic shift of lyrical themes from song to song with mixed results . But that doesn’t make the album a scattered mess, the album is still cohesive musically even if the distraught clash of lyrics between two songs can be strange. 

The case is most notable with a transition from “Needlessly Wild” into “Say It Like You Mean It,” leaving the listener in a state of lyrical whiplash; reading the first verse of each is all someone needs to glean that observation. What keeps the album together is the fact that every song sounds the same. Want to write a Sleater Kinney song off Little Rope? Great, play a standard pop-rock drum beat with an occasional fill to spice things up, have a guitar part playing chords with at least a fuzz effect, have the bass follow the exact rhythm of the guitar (it would be too interesting if it deviated), and have another guitar track playing dissonant chord scratches a la St. Vincent. 

A song will occasionally mutiny and sound different, but one thing always stays consistent: every song sounds like it was written by St. Vincent. There’s nothing wrong with influence, if anything, an artist like St. Vincent was probably influenced by Sleater Kinney; but Sleater Kinney have been a group for thirty years. Finding a groove takes time in music, it took Radiohead nearly a decade to sound original, but thirty years? They sounded more original twenty years ago.  But originality aside, they still sound amazing. The band brings an amazing producer, John Congleton (known for his eclectic range of work spanning from Brian Wilson to Sigur Rós) and he knows how to make a record sound great. Nothing is buried in the mixes on this album, the lyrics can be understood and heard, the bass is low and warm, the guitar parts don’t mesh together, and the drums sound sharp.

“Hell” is a great way to start off an album, it’s a track that properly characterizes the thirty minute voyage from start to finish. Bright piano chords introduce the listener to the experience, then the ivory is stripped from the keys with the abrupt introduction of the band. Lyrically, the track is less than exceptional. Lines like “hell is desperation and a young man with a gun” sound like they could be found on the side of a Monster Energy can. Maybe those lines sound cool, but they’re on a product made to be thrown away, not consumed.  

“Needlessly Wild” follows next and it’s less than impressive. Think of “Hell” as a gracious dinner host, smiling and shaking hands with incoming guests and maybe they’re different, but they’re nice and that’s what keeps people around. But their angsty kid, “Needlessly Wild,” won’t stop talking about how tough they are and it’s extremely off-putting. That’s exactly how it feels to listen to a song this lackluster, Brownstein’s voice is incredibly irritating on this song and it feels disjointed from the rest of the album. Sonically, it’s fine, the band still sounds good and it’s mixed well, but the lyrics are so off putting that it’s hard to muscle through a song like this. 

“Say It Like You Mean It” saves the day from the atrocity that was “Needlessly Wild.” Even though “Hell” had much quieter moments, “Say It Like You Mean It” feels more sparse. The addition of synthesizers helps to space out the track and the guitar part has a bounce that would anticipate a certain level of annoyance commonly found in a lot of pop rock but successfully subsides the crime. Three tracks in and this is the first song with lyrics to be appreciated. Brownstein doesn’t write anything earth shattering, the song is just about realizing the people surrounding her are temporary and that relationships should be cherished for the short time they take up. But it’s the level of sincerity she delivers the lines with that really makes them pop. 

“Six Mistakes” carries on where “Don’t Feel Right” left off; very physical and abrasive noise blended together with pop. What was said about “Don’t Feel Right” can be said about “Six Mistakes”, the main difference being the raise in intensity and a more punk rock template. This song very much feels like a modern attempt at writing a weird new wave song by either DEVO or Oingo Boingo but with more guitar experimentation. Regardless, there’s a certain nostalgia to it that’s charming, more so than the other impressions on this album that feel lazy. 

“Crusader” is unnervingly close to a Television song like “Venus” or “Elevation” that a writing credit towards Tom Verlaine wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest. What makes this song so frustrating is that by the chorus, Sleater Kinney shows that they know the difference between derivative and influence. Where was that eight songs ago? Even more embarrassing lyrics are found on this song too like “if we’re wicked, then you’re wretched,” followed by “take the sheep we’ll keep the blessed” to show Brownstein knows her way around a rhyming dictionary. Although not certainly a bad song, “Crusader” shows how uninspired Little Rope can be. 

“Dress Yourself” is a really thoughtful insight into a state of depression where hygiene is neglected. Or at least a lack of motivation to look aesthetically pleasing during a period of deep sadness. Brownstein writes about that state of mind and in its simplicity, there’s a somber beauty similar to poetry by Frank O’Hara or Charles Bukowski. All that the song needs is the removal of the first verse which is absolutely atrocious. “Get up, girl, and dress yourself in clothes you love for a world you hate.” It sounds amateur and rushed, the line shouldn’t have made it out of the drafting process or at least could’ve been rewritten to sound much better. 

“Untidy Creature” wraps Little Rope up pleasantly with a song that could easily be transformed into metal as smoothly as it could into a Top 40 hit. Lyrically, this is the least spotty song on the album and it’s a smart choice to end with because it’s one of the best on the album. The slowed tempo and heavy guitar riffs makes “Untidy Creature” stand out from the rest of the album and it’s a pretty solid echo from the first song, “Hell”. 

Is Little Rope by Sleater Kinney good? Yeah, it’s a good album. It’s nothing above great, excellent, or anywhere near classic, but it’s good. Little Rope is one of those albums to put on as background noise because the faults of the album start to unravel upon closer examination but sounds fine as background noise. To get into Sleater Kinney, start by listening to Dig Me Out, The Hot Rock, or The Woods which better represent the band’s skill. But this isn’t a bad album to get into the band. Little Rope can be found streaming on all platforms.

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About the Contributor
Andrew Bordner
Andrew Bordner, Staff Writer
Andrew is a senior at CHS, this is his first year in  Periscope. He participates in the Coffeehouse program. In his free time, he likes to write music, read, and watch movies.
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