Third time’s the charm? With Sleigh Bells, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to that old adage. For Alex Krauss and Derek E. Miller, the past three years have seen no end to the cycle of write, record, tour, headbang, rinse, repeat. The prolific duo are firm believers in this exhausting creative process, and so far, it’s totally worked for them; 2011’s Treats was an unexpectedly brazen, brilliant debut, and 2012’s Reign of Terror was a noisier, equally adept follow-up.
On Bitter Rivals, though, Sleigh Bells continue to carve deeper into their well-established niche– raw, riotous electro-shred-pop– without adding much more to it. Perkier, poppier, and far grander than anything they’ve ever done before, Bitter Rivals is Sleigh Bells redux, but really, we liked things the way they were.
Sleigh Bells’ appeal always lay in the exciting, almost dangerous dual nature of the band; thanks to the combination of Krauss’s high, angelic vocals and Miller’s bludgeoning beats, any Sleigh Bells record was bound to feel like an angel was pushing your head through a meat grinder. Bitter Rivals lacks some of this aggressive power, which is exactly what kept us coming back for more.
On title track “Bitter Rivals” Krauss is still sharp, but clearly, her bark is worse than her bite. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” she sings, which sets the stage for the stompy, peppy fairy tale that’s told throughout the record’s ten tracks. “Sugarcane” is the band at their catchiest, with sweet rhythms and flowing harmonies, ending in a girlish chuckle that’s almost too forced.
There are some great moments peppered throughout the not-so-great moments on Bitter Rivals, and they arrive when Krauss and Miller push themselves beyond the hybrid pop boundaries. “Sing Like A Wire” is a synth-fueled, early 90s dance floor anthem, until it decides to bash your brains in, that is; “Young Legends” is an R&B cut from the turn of the millennium, highlighting Krauss’s smooth, velvety crooning. “Love Sick” is a kind of surprising, romantic ballad that burns with nostalgic longing.
Bitter Rivals expands on a sound that didn’t really need expanding; we like Sleigh Bells most when they’re shredding us to pieces, not kissing us goodnight. Still, we know that Krauss and Miller will soldier on and, of course, we want them to. If only they’d take a vacation or something first.