Sleigh Bells album review: ‘Bitter Rivals’

Kyle Gustafson/FTWP - Derek E. Miller and Alexis Krauss of indie-rock duo Sleigh Bells perform at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.


“Bitter Rivals”

Kindred spirits: M.I.A., the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Show: With Doldrums on Tuesday at the 9:30 Club. Doors open at 7 p.m. 202-265-0930. Show is sold out.

Love it or hate it, Sleigh Bells’ sound is nothing if not recognizable. After bursting into the blogosphere in 2009 with a self-titled EP, singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller gathered a devoted following for their impossibly loud distorted guitars and girly, cooing vocals. A Sleigh Bells album can sound like a mob of steroid-addled cheerleaders, gleefully cartwheeling down an alley to beat you to a pulp.

The duo demonstrates a bit more nuance, and even some sensitivity, on new album “Bitter Rivals.” And alongside the brutish guitars and stomping rhythms, the band has embellished its sound with more production — acoustic guitars appear here and there, and the track “Sing Like a Wire” begins with kitschy synth and percussion.

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The band dials down the volume a bit, particularly in the album’s second half. “You Don’t Get Me Twice” blends scratchy riffs with softer portions that let Krauss’s vocals shine. “To Hell With You” treads even further into ballad territory, with a subdued mechanical beat and some of Krauss’s more soulful vocals layered on top of each other.

As far as evolution goes, this isn’t necessarily a huge leap, but Sleigh Bells is beginning to crack open the humanity behind its distinctive sound. Mostly, though, “Bitter Rivals” still sounds like the product of a big, hairy band with a swagger as big as its amplifiers.

— Dan Miller

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