Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Review: 'Bitter Rivals' by Sleigh Bells

Yesterday I was feeling like listening to some Sleigh Bells so I logged into Spotify and lo and behold, the new album was already available! I had completely forgotten about it, even though I previously wrote a bit about the forthcoming album and the lead single "Bitter Rivals". Whaddya know.

So, the Brooklyn-based noise pop duo are back with their sophomore record. Musically it combines the bubblegumminess of their debut album Treats and the underlying melancholia of their second LP Reign of Terror. In some sense it can even be regarded as a return to their roots. It's got the trademark Sleigh Bells sound with Derek Miller's loud, bursting guitars and beats combined with Alexis Krauss's saccharine vocals. Bitter Rivals, their third record, might not see the band exploring any radically different musical directions but it does showcase their more playful side that was relatively absent on Reign of Terror.

The title track and the first track on the album "Bitter Rivals" serves as a perfect example of this newly embraced playfulness with humorous opening lines ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times / I had to kill the new sheriff in town"), complete with finger snaps and barking dogs that can be heard in the background. Another track that plays with animal voices is "Tiger Kit", which features a crowing rooster and mooing cows sampled to a typical ear-splitting Sleigh Bells tune. The two explosive back-to-back tracks "Minnie" and "Sing Like A Wire" represent the more Treats-y side of the album, while "Sugarcane" and "24" sound like they could be Reign of Terror outtakes - the former even sounds a bit like a lovechild of "Born To Lose" and "Comeback Kid""You Don't Get Me Twice" feels like an edgier sister of their laid-back indie anthem "Rill Rill". "To Hell With You" is an unexpectedly wistful number - while still having the characteristic Sleigh Bells instrumentation - with lyrics such as "I'll go to hell with you / Here's the proof". One could even say it's their version of a romantic ballad. 

However, the quite possibly strongest tracks on the album are "Young Legends" and "Love Sick". "Young Legends", which I expect to get a single release sooner or later, is a gloomy banger that reminds me of Santigold's 2012 masterpiece "Disparate Youth" and, according to Miller himself, laments all the talent that goes unrecognised. "Young legends die all the time", sings Krauss in this emotional tune, "Young legends die and so will..." before teasingly leaving the personal pronoun unsaid. "Love Sick" sounds, interestingly, like a heavily distorted Spice Girls song (I kid you not) and she actually sounds a lot like Emma Bunton aka Baby Spice while giving life advice in the chorus ("Just because you can doesn't mean you should"). But even if you weren't really into 'spicing up your life' with some '90s pop influences there's no need to worry as it sounds amazing. Say hello to Alexis Krauss, the Edgy Spice, singing about how "love is a contact sport" and how she's "sending gummy bears to the electric chair" (one of the best random lyrics of the year!). There's also a surprising twist in the end when the outro turn christmas carol-like with jingle bells and all, which is obviously a reference to the band's name (though some argue they should've gone for an alternative spelling "Slay Bells" instead, which would also be rather fitting, wouldn't it).

So all in all, how is the album? Well. Imagine the bitchy cheerleader squad of the Youtube series Most Popular Girls In School tag-teaming in a fierce battle royal in a hack n' slash B-movie, while armed to the teeth, on crack. That's about the best metaphor I can provide you with. Then again, that goes for all of their albums which is in fact the biggest problem here: it doesn't really dare to experiment on its own, but rather relies to the type of music already established by their previous LPs. Bitter Rivals is a solid, distinctive Sleigh Bells album, all right, but with a little more experimenting and craziness in the style of "Straight A's" and "A/B Machines" we would really be talking about an important album here. Loudness just doesn't have the same shock value as it had back in 2008 during the Treats era. That being said, the album is still far from mediocre and as one of the most anticipated indie albums of the year it certainly won't let you disappointed. If you are (for some reason) planning to blast your eardrums into tatters, I couldn't recommend a better new album to do that with.

3½ / 5

Try at least: "Young Legends", "Love Sick", "Sugarcane", "Minnie"

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