When Sleigh Bells debuted in 2010 with the wildly entertaining and innovative Treats, many predicted their rise to stardom. No one expected the band to be as ubiquitous as it is now. If you’ve seen a movie or watched TV in the past year, it’s likely you’ve heard Sleigh Bells’ music in what seems like every movie trailer or opening-credits scene. While their second album had ’80s hair metal influences, their latest record seems to place an emphasis on the “pop” part of the noise-pop description they are often labeled with.
Like Grimes, the breakout Internet star of 2012, singer Alexis Krauss frequently uses aspects from ’90s pop throughout Bitter Rivals. As opposed to shouting her way through every song, Krauss has really worked on her craft, often breaking out into falsetto and going into full diva mode, especially on tracks such as “Sing Like a Wire.” Alongside partner Derek Miller, who writes and plays all the music here, the pair seems to have figured out the formula to create more catchy, immediate songs that will continue to dominate movie trailers for years to come.
Coming in at just under 30 minutes, Bitter Rivals is the least eventful of the band’s three albums. Without the shock factor of Treats or the heaviness of Reign of Terror, Bitter Rivals plays like what you would expect an average Sleigh Bells album to sound like. Their foray into pop music works well on tracks such as “Sugarcane,” but less so on title track “Bitter Rivals,” which stalls thanks to awkward lyrics and poor pacing.
Moments like “Young Legends,” which finds Krauss singing a No Doubt-style hook over a bouncing hip-hop beat, work well. For every one of those, there are spots of obvious filler, such as “Minnie” or the dragging and repetitive “Tiger Kit.” The album picks up more as it winds down, with highlights such as “To Hell With You,” the closest this band will ever get to writing a love song, and “Love Sick,” which features Krauss’ best imitation of a pop star.
To call Bitter Rivals bad would be misleading, as this is still good music by a talented band, but listening to it feels like listening to a pair of artists on autopilot. The band’s last album was better than it got credit for, so this push away from those aggressive ideas seems a little misguided. Fans should find a lot to enjoy here, but overall Bitter Rivals serves as a sign that maybe it’s time to lower your expectations for Sleigh Bells.