Sleigh Bells - Bitter Rivals
Massive crunching guitar riffs. Hard, headache inducing drum beats. A wailing vocal scream. Yes, they’re back: prolific noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells continue their assault on our senses with their third album in four years - a release rate that’s almost unheard of in this bleed ‘em dry age of one-record-every-three-years. And despite talk of mellowing recently, the music on Bitter Rivals is as fierce as it always was.
What has changed though is a growth in the level of songwriting; there’s a depth and a tunefulness that is far more to the fore than on albums one and two. With an increased contribution from singer Alexis Krauss, the hooks are stronger and the album sustains replay value. While debut Treats and its centrepiece ‘Infinity Guitars’ were a lo-fi surprise on release in 2010, the follow up's industrial feel seemed less fresh. At that point you had to wonder where guitarist Derek Miller and Krauss might go next but the input from Krauss has created something better crafted, more tuneful and melodic. This is music that’s grown up.
Right from the off you can tell things are going to be a little different, with just an acoustic guitar, Krauss yelping, and some background dog barks for the first 30 seconds of title track ‘Bitter Rivals’, before the big beats and electronics crash in. ‘Sugarcane’ harks back to their incendiary debut, albeit more refined, and ‘Minnie’ surges with a terrific guitar riff and quiet contrast in the chorus; in some ways it sums up the Sleigh Bells sound. Other examples of the new same-but-less approach are scattered liberally throughout: ‘Tiger Kit’ being one of the most obvious, the pounding of ‘Sing Like A Wire’, whilst ‘You Don’t Get Me Twice’ shows off Krauss' new found confidence - but without neglecting those trademarked guitar riffs.
The Brooklyn duo are growing musically but without leaving their signature noise behind. Bitter Rivals is a showcase both of their ever improving sense of pop melodies, and their skill at combining these with the cacophony of guitar and drums that they’re best known for. A significant improvement on Reign Of Terror then, and a terrific example of a band growing organically, ever improving and refining its sound. No bitter pill - this is a sweet success for Miller and Krauss.