Music Reviews
4:41 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

Sleigh Bells: Stomping The Fine Line Between Sweetness And Menace

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 6:24 pm

Formula can be a blessing and a curse. The Ramones had one that was so great, its members were almost trapped by it. The noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells' formula is breathtakingly great, too — and its third record, Bitter Rivals, reconfirms it.

The group is still defined by brutal stomp-clap rhythms, guitar noise, overmodulated shout-singing and vocalist Alexis Krauss' suburban, tough-gal persona. But this is album No. 3, and you can hear Sleigh Bells fighting against its own formula. It's a positive development: There's a lot of acoustic guitar, although the instrument takes a beating. There are also more melody and singing, and some impressively bulked-up '90s-style R&B.

A change even more startling comes with down-tempo songs such as "To Hell With You," which sounds like a '60s girl group conducting military drills. Tracks in this vein somehow sound both sweet and menacing.

The upshot of Bitter Rivals is Sleigh Bells trying to figure out how to make subversive pop music actually pop, without losing the subversiveness. It's a fine line, and the musicians are thoroughly stomping on it.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The musical duo Sleigh Bells makes music that is very noisy and very fun. Band members Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller create hard-edged pop songs influenced by hip-hop, heavy metal, marching band rhythms and stadium chants. Our music critic Will Hermes says their third album, "Bitter Rivals," both leans on what has worked for them in the past and pushes their boundaries.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: Formula can be a blessing and a curse. The Ramones had one that was so great they were kind of trapped by it. Sleigh Bells' formula is breathtakingly great, too, and their third record reconfirms it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: The group is still defined by brutal stomp-clap rhythms, guitar noise, over-modulated shout-singing and Alexis Krauss' suburban, tough-girl persona. But this is album three, and on it, you can hear Sleigh Bells fighting against their formula. It's a positive development. There's more melody, more singing, a lot of acoustic guitar, although the instrument takes a beating, and some impressively bulked-up '90s-style R&B.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: Even more startling are the down-tempo songs, which somehow manage to sound both sweet and menacing, like this one, titled "To Hell With You." It sounds like a '60s girl group conducting military drills.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: The upshot of this record is Sleigh Bells trying to figure out how to make their subversive pop music actually pop without losing the subversiveness. It's a fine line and they are thoroughly stomping on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: The new album by Sleigh Bells is called "Bitter Rivals." Our critic, Will Hermes is author of the book, "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Let us know what you like about the program and what you don't like. You can write to us at NPR.org. Just click on the work Contact at the bottom of the page.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And if you want to hear something again or catch up on what you've missed, it's all online at NPR.org/AllThingsConsidered.

SIEGEL: And to follow our program and us on Twitter, I'm Robert Siegel @RSeigel47.

BLOCK: I'm @NPRMelissaBlock. Our co-host Audie Cornish is @NPRAudie.

SIEGEL: And the show is @NPRATC. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.