Mom + Pop
Oct 10, 2013 Web Exclusive
"You are my bitter rival/And I need you for survival" sings Sleigh Bells frontwoman Alexis Krauss on Bitter Rivals' opening and title track—a sentiment that applies well to Sleigh Bells in general, when you think about it. The New York noisemongers' strength has always been in the tensions and conflicts that pull at every song until it's taut and quivering: Krauss' outgoing performances versus guitar-wielding Derek Miller's behind-sunglasses reticence. Simple, catchy pop melodies at odds with the ear-bleeding metal tones they're rendered in. Krauss' vocals switching from sugar-sweet, ice-cold singing to a terrifying, commanding robot-shout and back again, two rival voices each trying to claw their way into prominence. The rival factions at work in Sleigh Bells' music are the reason that it's so exciting.
The duo's third outing sees them torn between sticking to the diva-pop-meets-electrothrash template that made Treats and Reign of Terror such addictive listening and pushing out to pastures new; the result is that they don't fully commit to either. The likes of "Sugarcane," "Minnie," and "Sing Like a Wire" see the band going over old ground, and at this stage the formula's beginning to feel a little tired: the disconcerting rivalry between soft and harsh that made those first two records so compelling has lost a lot of its novelty three albums in, and there's only so much Miller can do with his signature headache-inducing guitar tone. When Sleigh Bells do push at the thrash-pop boundaries of their first two records, it's done tentatively—a bit of an R'n'B flavor on the title track and "Young Legends," a more low-key, sultry vibe than we're used to on "You Don't Get Me Twice"—but the songs lack the bratty, white-hot, fist-to-the-gut force of something like "Infinity Guitars" or "Riot Rhythm."
It's always encouraging to watch bands evolving and progressing rather than churning out album after album of the same sound—but with Bitter Rivals, Sleigh Bells haven't quite hit all the targets they're aiming for. (www.bitterrivals.us)
Author rating: 5.5/10
Average reader rating: 9/10