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Album Review: Sleigh Bells – “Kid Kruschev”

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Since their 2010 debut, Sleigh Bells have been dubbed the poster child for “noise-pop”—defined as a combination of angelic pop vocals, distortion, and white noise–conveying an overbearing presence that cannot be ignored. Four albums later, vocalist Alexis Krauss and producer/songwriter Derek E. Miller embark on a thematic departure, Kid Kruschev, reflecting their artistic development over the years with new personal and political undertones. Upon the first listen, Sleigh Bells’ new album deviates from the singular explosive, in-your-face temperament, opting for the inclusion of synths and acoustic guitars. However, a closer look at the 7-track EP proves that Sleigh Bells evolve their sound, not only with these new vibrant tones but also with Krauss’ vocals governing the album’s sonic nature.

On their debut, Treats, Sleigh Bells established a genre-bending sound that would carry over the next two albums. However, the synth-pop Jessica Rabbit was a precursor to this new album, harnessing the noisy guitars with the domineering vocal presence of Krauss. Notably, “Blue Trash Mattress Fire,” the opening track, exhibits this position with Krauss belting over the droning guitar riffs throughout. As well, in “Rainmaker,” her voice dictates the booming synths as she croons over a failed relationship.

Like other American artists, Sleigh Bells allude to the current socio-political climate. During the instrumental crescendo in “Show Me the Door,” Krauss duets with a robotic voice, repeating the phrase “Check it out/ Check it out/ The faith’s going away.” This absence of faith, reinforces the darker subject matter present in the album. As well, in “Blue Trash Mattress Fire,” Krauss alludes to political instability: “Evidence of moral detours/ In the downtown holy wars/ Hysterical depths of casual hatred/ Taking place in everyday places.” On a personal level, “Florida Thunderstorm” substitutes the rough guitar riffs for acoustic guitars, layered with Krauss’ low pitch vocals singing over the loss of a loved one. While this deviates from their conventional sound, this experimentation still compliments Miller’s strategy of incorporating unorthodox sounds, such as chirping birds and pronounced reverbs, to disrupt the listener’s experience.

Kid Kruschev can be viewed as Sleigh Bells looking back at their artistic evolution, holding onto their noise-pop roots with powerful vocals. Sleigh Bells find themselves trying to balance a signature sound, while evolving sonically with electronic textures adopted by many in the last decade. Nonetheless, Sleigh Bells deserve attention, looking at their artistic oeuvre to suggest what may well be, the future of pop music.

Sleigh Bells will be performing in Montreal on Jan. 27, 2018 at L’Astral.

 

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