The duo of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss formed in New York about five years ago as an experimental pop duo. Miller had been in a hardcore band and relocated from Florida to New York to start a new project. He found a good pairing with Krauss who had been a vocalist in a teen girl group. The experimental part of their music was combining loud, aggressive guitars and a massive beat with pop hooks and Krauss’ pop vocals. A breakout performance at a 2009 CMJ festival started the hype and the band released their first album “Treats” in 2010. “Treats” received a great deal of critical acclaim. It presented a very unique sound, not only is the music loud and abrasive to start with, it’s recorded with even more distortion and also very lo-fi. Once you add Krauss’ ultra-girly vocals to the mix, you have two opposites that end up mashing very well together. It really was a thrilling combination, and I enjoyed “Treats” a great deal. Sleigh Bells released “Reign of Terror” in 2012 and brought more of the same on this album. However, I found it to be a little more subdued and it can be hard to listen to the very rough and distorted production for the length of an entire album. So I was a little skeptical when their latest album “Bitter Rivals” came out in October. However, the duo has become slightly more poppy, while still retaining the bombast. I think they’ve done a nice job mixing the two, and I’m enjoying the new album much more than their previous release. The sound is a little less dense, and the duo is using breaks and silence to help drive home the bombast more effectively. In general, it’s just a lot more fun to listen to compared to “Reign of Terror”.
I’m including the title and lead-off track “Bitter Rivals” because I think they nailed it on this track. I love how the different elements come together and create a loud and fun pop song. It’s simple with a catchy chorus and those are the basic elements for an effective pop song. I like the slow build-up at the beginning as the guitar gently strums and the oohing and cooing is taking place, before BAM, there’s that Sleigh Bells bombast fully kicking in. Some of the unique elements the band brings in on this track are Krauss’ rap style singing on the verses and the horns that are in the mix. Then when the chorus comes in, the music drops off except for the beat as Krauss falls into her syrupy sweet vocal style. Then BAM, right back into the hard-hitting verse. They have a lot of fun with this track. Good luck keeping the chorus from running on an infinite loop in your head for the next few days.
Does it translate well live? I think it does, that’s why I’ve included the second link below of a live performance of the band on the Jimmy Kimmel show, complete with a horn section and back-up singers. Krauss leverages the impact of the sonics perfectly on the stage, turning her back to the audience right before the music kicks in hard, then spinning around and strutting around the stage as she spits out the first verse. The live drums and cymbals also add a different element to the sound compared to the recorded version. It’s a high energy performance, and Krauss and Miller play it up to the fullest on the small stage.
Live version performed on Jimmy Kimmel: