“The guy that made Treats would hate Jessica Rabbit,” so said Derek Edward Miller in a recent Rolling Stone interview. The guitarist of electro-rock duo SLEIGH BELLS is pertaining to their 2010 debut album, in which their brash aggression juxtaposed with a sickly pop core sliced through the indie rock’s more trivial pursuits. In the eight years and three albums since then, the band have bullheadedly battered onwards with their relentless barrage of sound, but with their latest release – the aforementioned Jessica Rabbit – breathing new life into their formula, Sleigh Bells are relinquishing the shackles of their own ambitions.
Whereas the late noughties were bludgeoned by a crass stampede of wobbling dubstep and interchangeable indie-fodder that slid, ungraciously, into the abyss, Sleigh Bells stuck out like a sore thumb. Here was a band that somehow sounded nothing like what had come before, and even after the triumph of Treats, when it came to originality, the only competition they faced was themselves. Take but one listen of recent single ‘I Can Only Stare’ and it becomes clear that Sleigh Bells have shirked the self-consciousness and are wholly, willingly trying to shake up their own formula. It is a bold, booming, pop anthem, slick and streamlined in a way that wouldn’t go amiss if instead sung power-house style by Lady Gaga, yet with enough quirk in vocalist Alexis Krauss’ delivery to remind you that this isn’t made for the charts.
If you are looking for more of the same, however, you will be sorely disappointed; one unabashed big pop anthem is quite enough for one album, but in listening it is clear that Krauss has staked her claim on album number four. This is a more even collaboration between herself and Derek Edward Miller, one that is only elevated due to the founding of their label, Torn Clean, on which their first release is Jessica Rabbit. Without external forces breathing down their necks and with ultimate creative control back in their hands, Jessica Rabbit sees Sleigh Bells exercise the most creativity since the iconic Treats.
And there is still a lot for Treat-lovers to love here; lead single ‘It’s Just Us Now’ is as bombastic as their early efforts, despite the band eschewing Krauss’ often impishly chanted verses for soaring choruses. The lead guitar riff from ‘I Can’t Stand You Anymore’ could easily be plucked from a few decades prior, the chorus this time around recalling that of classic 90s RnB – and let’s be clear, Krauss’ voice is as malleable and diverse as the range of sounds at play here. There are times, however when it feels that in Krauss gaining volume to her voice, the noise of Miller’s guitar is often obsolete. ‘I Know Not To Count On You’ for example, is more rippling electronica and plucked strings, whilst the simple beats and hooks of ‘Baptism By Fire’ could easily be a mainstream chart hit were it tweaked a little.
In taking ownership of themselves once more and refreshing their sound, Sleigh Bells have made admirable leaps forward with Jessica Rabbit; it is a shame, however, that it does not always pay off. Whilst the writing process has clearly been more evenly played between Krauss and Miller, as a body of work Jessica Rabbit feels frequently disjointed, for whilst the mix of crashing guitars and pop songs is enjoyable, flitting between the two as intermittently as it does here only gives the impression that currently, the band are aware of what they want to be yet unsure as to how best to deliver it.
As Miller did state that “The guy that made Treats would hate Jessica Rabbit”; well perhaps with outside perspective, the people who loved Treats may prove to not hate the latest incarnation of Sleigh Bells, there is just not quite enough reason to love it.