Review: Sleigh Bells – ‘Bitter Rivals’


Sleigh Bells 

Bitter Rivals (Mom+Pop)

Result: 3.2 / 5.0

Its’ official. Sleigh Bells are back. After a typically enigmatic string of announcements by way of their various social media sites, the Brooklyn based duo, consisting of Alexis Krauss (vox) and Derek Miller (guitar/beats) have announced the immanent landing of their third album, entitled Bitter Rivals. The album is slated for release on 7 October on Mom+Pop. The first seed of news was sown when the band  posted a video clip for the title track on the Creators Project Youtube channel, which was quickly followed by a Soundcloud upload of another album track entitled ‘You Don’t Get Me Twice’ onto their Tumblr.

Enough about the hype, what about the music? Well, it seems Bitter Rivals signals a change of direction in sound for the band. The immediacy and aggression found in such abundance in their first album, Treats was sharply toned down in their sophomore record, Reign Of Terror. Now that the band have arrived at album number three, it seems Sleigh Bells, being self-professed producers of ‘noise pop’ have sacrificed the ‘noise’ in firm favour of the ‘pop’. All the hallmarks of the Sleigh bells sound are here: the scratchy guitar, the 16 beat electronic drum beats, but it’s all in the background now. What’s certainly not in the background, and what’s most profoundly changed (apart from Miller’s extensive use of the electric guitar in favour of the acoustic), is Alexis Krauss’ vocal style. No more the in-your-face 4th grade teacher from hell (yes, she used to that for a living before being in a band); enter the sassy, matured approachable (with caution) pop ‘n’ roll front woman.

There are still stabs of Krauss’ distorted lines jackknifing across the tracks in places, especially in the title track ‘Bitter Rivals’ and what appears to be the band’s ode to 70s soul artist Minnie Ripperton, ‘Minnie’. But what’s more prevalent is Krauss the pop artist showing off her more melodic, occasionally R’n’B friendly, side.

The important thing is that this change in sound is entirely deliberate. Miller (who also produced the album) and Krauss have said that they were ‘interested in doing something Beyonce or Janet Jackson would do’. And it shows. Tracks like ’24’ and ‘Young Legends’ fully embrace this ethos to the most extreme way possible, the latter sounding more like an out take from a long forgotten 5 Star album.

This album is definitely different to the band’s previous output, and this level pop embracement is a little unexpected, but does Sleigh Bells continuing their pop trajectory mean they’re a lesser band? Probably not. Bitter Rivals may leave the hardcore Sleigh Bells fan, pining for tracks like ‘Infinity Guitars’ a little cold, but this album is the work of a band that have changed direction yet retained some of the essence of what made them interesting in the first place. Sleigh Bells may have lost a lot of their bite, but there’s still enough energetic snarl to leave a jagged ring of teeth marks. Just don’t expect them to break the skin.

Biter Rivals is out 7 October on Mom+Pop

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