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CRAVEN’S NOTES: Those noisy Sleigh Bells

Craven Lovelace
Staff Photo |

Craven is always interested in bands which generate a lot of cross-generational disagreement.

Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, he saw that a lot… but here, in a modern age wherein the stars of the moment are carefully (and safely!) vetted and groomed on shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice,” not so much any more.

But Sleigh Bells is such a divisive act. This past Tuesday saw the release of Sleigh Bells’ third full-length album, “Bitter Rivals,” and the Brooklyn duo’s music seems to cleave listeners into broad demographic segments; if you like it, you’re probably under 30, whereas many folks Craven’s age find it to be “cacophony masquerading as music,” as one (probably older) wag put it in the comments section of an NPR story on the band. That being said, for whatever it says about Craven’s maturity — or lack thereof — he positively LURVES Sleigh Bells.



You can file Sleigh Bells under the “Noise Pop” tab. But unlike the Raveonettes or the Jesus and Mary Chain or the Dum Dum Girls, Sleigh Bells find their noise in more than simple guitar feedback. The band they most sound like to Craven’s ears is the Go! Team, who turned heads in 2005 with their alternative hit, “Ladyflash.”

Like that British band, Sleigh Bells often draws upon cheerleading chants and military cadences, but then layers obscure samples, crunchy, AC/DC-style riffs and airy, girl group melodies on top to craft a music that hits you like a hard punch in the teeth in an alternate universe where you bleed honey, and the taste of the blood on your lips is sweet and addictive, and you mumble, “Pleathe, thir, more,” through your shattered incisors.



The new album finds Sleigh Bells scaling back the sonic assault just a smidgin, and folding in a touch of R&B in Alexis Kraus’ vocals. On some songs, like the album’s closer, “Love Sick,” guitarist Derek Miller pulls away from the frets long enough to allow Krauss to go small and tender on the lyrics:

“The pleasure of your company — look what it’s done to me

There’s a heart in my chest, where a hole used to be.

There’s a hole in my chest, where a heart used to be.

I’m sending gummy bears to the electric chair.”

And, whatever your opinions regarding capital punishment for jujubes, the emotional impact of the moment is visceral. But at other moments during “Bitter Rivals” 29-minute running length, Krauss’ sugary voice crystallizes into something harder, like when she sings, “It’s a terrifying thing, the American Dream,” in “You Don’t Get Me Twice,” right before Miller unfurls a blues lick that would have sounded right at home on the Black Keys’ early albums.

So fair warning: If you’ve lived long enough to see three or more peaks in solar storm activity, you may hate the new album by Sleigh Bells. But if you’re still young enough (chronologically or at heart) to at least occasionally enjoy having your face melted off, you will find much blistering passion to enjoy in Sleigh Bell’s “Bitter Rivals.”

Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog and also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog at http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog/. You can also find him on Facebook.

Notes is made possible by Tina Harbin of Real Estate West, the premier resource for all real estate information and services on the Western Slope.


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