Seattle – Sleigh Bells has always toyed with the line between loud noise-rock and jangle-pop, a combination that’s somehow seems to work. The Brooklyn duo released its third album, “Bitter Rivals”, October 8th and with it, has proven that the combination alone isn’t a recipe for success. Bitter Rivals is not the most listenable album from the band whose reputation and past innovation set seriously high standards. Vocalist Alexis Krauss wrote most of this album’s melodies (a change from Derek Miller’s creative dominance) so Bitter Rivals naturally showcases Krauss’ vocal versatility, but might be doing so at the expense of cohesion and basic songwriting.
The disjointed nature of this album is no better exemplified than on the opening track and lead single, “Bitter Rivals.” The track jumps between Krauss’ “power-chord vocals” and teeny-bopper cooing with no transition between the two. If the fragmentation of the track wasn’t overwhelming enough, the band decided to mix in dogs barking and other odd sounds to add to the chaos of noise. “Sing Like a Wire” is probably next in line as the most dismembered songs on the album, but it brings forward a side of Sleigh Bells that has been more subdued up until this album: an R&B side. It gets muddled in the sheer confusion of the track, but hints at what the band’s capable of.
Later in the album, “Young Legends” really pushes Krauss’ R&B potential; the direction is promising if only slightly underdeveloped. This track (among others) shows Sleigh Bells’ confidence in risk-taking and is one of the album’s biggest gambles. It is also perhaps it’s biggest success. The quieter “To Hell With You” allows Krauss to explore the softer side of her voice and song-writing; the risk here was deviating from the classic Sleigh Bells formula – and it worked.
Sleigh Bells has been known for being loud and in-your-face. Bitter Rivals definitely delivers on that front, but it falls short of the innovation of the band’s past records. What brought this band to the spotlight in the first place was its ability to make ear-splitting music fun and intricate. As they work through the kinks of a now more collaborative writing process, there’s enough potential in Bitter Rivals that we can still have confidence in Sleigh Bells’ ability to endure this slight hiccup in its repertoire.While each song on this album might not be a wild success story, I can’t imagine the duo wouldn’t put on a pretty wild show. Check out the band’s upcoming tour dates here. Bitter Rivals is available through Mom + Pop Music.