Bitter Rivals: Sleigh Bells
It seems like only yesterday Sleigh Bells released their impressive sophomore album, Reign of Terror, and now they return with Bitter Rivals, an album filled with as much animosity as its title. The duo of Alexis Krauss (vocalist) and Derek Edward Miller (guitarist) have cornered the market on cheerleader noise pop, mixing abrasive beats with wailing vocals and rah-rah anthems that begged for us to sing along. However, with their newest release, they’ve heightened the caustic quality of their music and abandoned just about everything else that made them indie’s favorite rebels.
Incoherent at times, and almost always overly aggressive, Bitter Rivals spends too much time showcasing the band’s anger and not enough time exploring the complex emotions that they effortlessly displayed in their earlier releases. Where Treats (2010) and Reign of Terror (2012) were odes to broken teenage life, exploring suicide, isolation, empowerment, and fear, Bitter Rivals fails to have any message except constant irritation.
Krauss, known for melodically spouting verses that create a sense of “us against the world” with the listener, she now dominates with such vitriol, she creates a disconnect with the people her music is supposed to embrace. Moreover, rather than contrasting her fury with restraint, Miller, serving as producer, chose to support Krauss with thrashing electronics, assailing guitars riffs, and drums that bang aimlessly. This may have been the point of the album – that anger and frustration are never clean, neatly constructed emotions – yet taking all the weak components of the album as a whole, it is doubtful that was the intent.
Krauss took a larger role in the writing, and it shows lyrically, which are remarkably pedestrian. One only needs to listen to “Minnie” (“Minnie Minnie/go count your pennies/I’m sorry to say you don’t have many.”) or “You Don’t Get Me Twice” (“I received no warning/Now that’s heartwarming/Oh right, the weather’s boring”) to understand that any sense of symbolism or complexity has been sacrificed for simplistic rhymes.
Maybe Miller and Krauss don’t want to admit that they are at their best when they stop thrusting songs into the atmosphere like rockets and take a gentler approach. The best tracks on Bitter Rivals are the most sedated (“To Hell With You” and “24”) or simply abstain from screaming at the world, relying on pure pop recipes (the Ace of Base-ish “Young Legends”).
Hopefully, the duo will take a little more time with their next release, losing the animosity as they mature and embrace the concept that throwing a tantrum is not the best way to get your message across. If they don’t, they likely will become tiresome to their base and come to an unfortunate realization: that their bitter rivals are only themselves.