Alexis Krauss and Derek Edward Miller, better known as Sleigh Bells, have done something fascinating on their latest release Bitter Rivals.
They’ve actually ascertained how to marry slick pop pageantry to the confrontational wallop of 1980s thrash metal without appearing desperate to pacify both sides of the aisle. Instead of allowing one style to topple the other, they put their heads together, and let sparks fly with reckless abandon.
The title track jumpstarts things with Krauss spewing lyrics through a flamethrower as she wastes little time letting the listener in on what the band is all about in 2013. It’s an abrasive beginning to what builds itself up as a ride you won’t soon forget.
Sugarcane is an appropriately named slice of heaven that leans on a spirited riff from Miller as well as elements of EDM that mirror the noise eruption prominent on Kanye West’s Yeezus from earlier this year. While both albums favor an in-your-face approach, Bitter Rivals gets the edge, because West’s rampant misogyny and noxious messianic complex don’t do a thing for me.
Krauss and Miller leave a lot to be desired lyrically as well, but at least they’re not orchestrating their own coronation as God’s gift to everyone and everything. They’re simply crafting music vigorous enough to overcome whatever marginal thematic motifs are employed along the way, and I enjoyed it a great deal.
Minnie opens with George Lynch-type distortion that confirms a glam influence, Tiger Kit is a guitar-based synth extravaganza that sounds like a distant relative of late ‘80s Queen without the gravitas of Freddie Mercury, and Young Legends wastes its keyboard-fueled intro with a conservative chorus not much different from something you’d hear on Top-40 radio.
As with their previous record Reign of Terror, Sleigh Bells falters when trying to turn every song into an anthem worthy of halftime at the Super Bowl. It’s not their strength, so they should leave the stadium swagger to U2 and Springsteen.
The weakest links here are Sing Like a Wire and You Don’t Get Me Twice, because neither does anything we haven’t heard a million times before. Both feel like mash-ups of rhythms previously utilized in some form by Beyonce or Nelly Furtado, which isn’t exactly a selling point when deciding whether or not you should spring for the album.
To Hell with You, 24, and Love Sick close out the proceedings by continuing down the poppy trail, a road that defines most of what Bitter Rivals represents at this point in the band’s development cycle. With each project, they’ve tried to show off how well-rounded their tastes are by incorporating whatever flavor-of-the-week they can get their hands on, and, like Treats and Reign of Terror, this one is a lovable mixed bag whose flair for bombast is too exciting to ignore.
It won’t go down as one of 2013’s pivotal listens, but it is an intriguing step for a pair capable of producing electricity when inclined to do so. In recent interviews, Miller has iterated how amped he is to bring this material to the stage, and, for the most part, I share his enthusiasm.
It appears we have another case of a band waiting to blossom until an audience is holding its feet to the fire, so hopefully the songs will be strong enough to deliver on that contract.