October 10, 2013

Test Spins: Sleigh Bells, Bitter Rivals

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What made Sleigh Bells’ debut Treats unique was that it was very, very loud; its confluence of metal and teen pop was so distorted that it sounded like it had already been through several thousand defunct CD rips by the time it hit your speakers. What made Treats a great album, though, was that the duo, singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller, knew when to vary that loudness with (relatively) subdued tracks and grooves that made those brash moments stick out. Let’s not forget that the song for which the band is most well known is not an all-out banger, but simply Krauss singing sweetly over a Funkadelic sample on the plaintive “Rill Rill.”

That dynamism waned on Sleigh Bells’ 2012 follow-up, Reign of Terror, the group instead opting for the reasonable strategy of making a collection of pop songs with loud guitars over them. The album succeeded by virtue of its immediacy, but with the exception of the single “Comeback Kid,” its songs failed to stick after multiple listens. Bitter Rivals, Sleigh Bells’ third album, also has its tuneful moments, just less of them. Its songs are catchy, but, without any songwriting heft, they come and go without leaving an impression. And, at less than a half hour long, the album feels more like a stopgap release than a new, definitive statement.

Sadly, there isn’t much more to Bitter Rivals that that; if you’re just looking for deranged pop songs, you’ll question why you wouldn’t just listen to Reign of Terror instead. Alternatively, if you’re like me and Reign of Terror left you cold, you’ll question why you wouldn’t opt for Treats over either. Krauss consistently lends appealing melodies to songs like “Sugar Cane” and “Love Sick,” but without any sonic counterweights to balance out their richness, they largely get lost in the din. “Sing Like a Wire,” for example, seems to only hinge on the fact that it has a deliriously loud chorus. unceremoniously exploding in a way that would sound downright tacky on Treats.

Despite never really offending, Bitter Rivals shows Sleigh Bells in some clear creative stagnation. Except for some cosmetic musical changes, rarely does it feel like the album is a progression from what came before it. There is something to be said for staying dedicated to the sound that put you on the map, and, to this day, nobody is making music that sounds quite like Sleigh Bells. But when the only thing people are saying about your third album is that it’s LOUD, you have to wonder where the distinction ends and the gimmick begins.

Paul Blank is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]