Alexis Krauss

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. 

Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells performs at the Myspace Secret Show Friday.

Photo Credit: Kelsey McKinney | Daily Texan Staff

We spent last night at the second of three Myspace "secret shows." These shows are open to badge members as well as very devout rumor followers who keep close tabs on the secret show wristband giveaways. We were lucky to make it into the 800 person Coppertank Events Center

Theophilus London 

London had his own stage on the north end of the events center where he started off the secret show by dee-jaying some favorite Top-40 songs from Nikki Minaj to Adele. People in the crowd were happy and feeling elitist for their entry into such a small venue. The air-conditioning blew strong and people bobbed around while sipping Tito's vodka. London was the "host" of the secret show, which really only meant that he would appear for 30 minute time blocks between sets to keep momentum up. 

songs to listen to: "I Stand Alone" and "Wine and Chocolates"

Dillion Francis

Francis led off the official myspace show with an electronica set. He wore a skinny tie and started off the set with a lot of excitement. Apparently, Francis came to fame because Diplo liked one of his songs and as we all know Diplo pretty much controls everything. This pick, however, might have been poor. Francis could not maintain momentum. He would raise the tempo of songs, have great audience participation, and then drop the beat into something slow that no one knew how to dance to. Everyone was happier when London reappeared. 

songs to listen to: "Here to China"

Sleigh Bells

After a thirty minute sound-check and microphone set-up, everyone was thrilled to welcome Sleigh Bells to the stage. Alexis Krauss wore her uniform: black leather studded jacket and cut off army print shorts. Her bangs fell down over her eyes only in the moments when she wasn't headbanging or dancing, which was never. Krauss is Sleigh Bells. She crowd surfed and let audience members sing into her microphone. For the entire hour set, Krauss never stopped moving and the audience danced with her. As evidenced by the massive clearout of the venue after Sleigh Bells' set, Krauss was the true reason for the show. 

songs to listen to: "Comeback Kid"  and "Riot Rythm" 

Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus set up a massive white screen in front of his DJ stand that projected geometric shapes and trancy graphics between him and the audience. Beween the Sleigh Bells set and Flying Lotus's set, not only did a mass exodus occur, but  the crowd turned over from from a group of WASPy dancers to many dreadlocked head-nodders. Lotus, whose music exists somewhere between the realms of electronic dance and acoustic rap, brought the tone back down to the inconsistent momentum of Dillon. We bailed after a few songs.

songs to listen to: "Zodiac Shit" and probably nothing else.

Here are some other shows we saw yesterday: 

Divine Fits

The gates were expanded for this year’s Auditorium Shores shows to accommodate larger crowds for the Divine Fits/Jim James/Flaming Lips performance. Divine Fits finished out a week of shows at the venue and fans kicked up dust as they danced along. In my opinion, they should have played after Jim James instead of before. Their performance was much more enjoyable.

Song to listen to: Would That Not Be Nice

Jim James

Jim James might actually be the most ridiculous performer I’ve ever seen. He came out wearing a suit and I’m not sure he ever actually stopped pacing across the front of the stage. I’m not sure what I hated more: the horrendous singing or the horrendously overdone guitar solos on the Flying V he had stationed at the front of the stage on a stand. Never seeing Jim James perform ever again would be nice.

Song to listen to: They are all awful

The Flaming Lips

In my opinion, Wayne Coyne can do no wrong, but a lot of people at Friday’s Auditorium Shores performance disagree. The Flaming Lips debuted their entire unreleased album, The Terror, which was complete with a provocative, in your face show that included light up baby dolls and a topless woman in a larger than life hamster ball. Upon finishing the new show, Coyne humored old fans by playing several songs from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Coyne teased the possibility of Justin Timberlake joining the band on stage to perform Do You Realize??, but to our incredible dismay, it was Jim James and his ridiculous ego who came back onto the stage to help the Lips perform the closing song. Nonetheless, singing Do You Realize?? with Wayne Coyne and thousands of other people under a beautiful night sky in Austin, Texas is a beautiful experience. Somehow, people left disappointed. Haters gonna hate, I guess.

Song to listen to: Look, The Sun Is Rising 

 

If Sleigh Bells’ 2010 album Treats came out with a rush of adrenaline, Reign of Terror is more of the aftershock to the eruption. Instead of shocking listeners with their unique blend of heavy metal, soft vocals and fast-paced beats, they’ve streamlined their sound into a more evolved foundation laid out by their debut.

However, with an introductory album that made waves for its creativity and sheer fun that gave life to what could otherwise have been a train wreck of sound, this matured departure may not please all fans. Nonetheless, Reign of Terror remains an album with a sense of subdued exhilaration that makes up for what it lacks in boldness with consistency and substance that still begs for listeners to turn up the volume — or as vocalist Alexis Krauss cries out on the album’s opening track: “I wanna see those fucking hands in the air!”

“Crush” is easily the stand-out of the album, with Krauss’s soft, dream pop vocals overlaying the heavier guitar riffs, drawing together what should normally clash into a rhythmic, lulling beat. Krauss’ vocals are more frequently used to drive the melody of the songs than in the previous album, resulting in an overall more refined production.

Similarly, the transitions between songs are generally smooth, merging into one another with mixed effects. While it may improve the album’s flow, it also creates the impression that — with the exception of a few standout tracks — the album as a whole is somewhat deficient in diversity. Guitar riffs are also much more prevalent in Reign of Terror, but often lack the complexity of those displayed by guitarist and producer Derek Miller on Treats, resulting in a somewhat underwhelming display of his talent.

“You know it didn’t have to be this way,” sings Krauss in “End of the Line,” a nostalgic interlude that marks the transition away from the softer first half of the album before quite literally exploding into the heavier, in-your-face catchiness of songs like “Demons” and “Never Say Die,” which will be more likely to satisfy fans of the duo’s previous work. However, despite the fast-paced, grittier tone of the album’s latter half, the album never loses its polished sound.

“Comeback Kid” is another highlight of Reign of Terror, with catchy riffs that act as an anthem of sorts regarding the duo’s return. In a rebuttal, both thematically and musically, to “End of the Line,” Krauss sings, “I know it’s hard, but you’ve gotta deal with it/Why don’t you look around, show me what you’re made of?”

While Reign of Terror’s sound ranges from upbeat and playful to wistfully low-fi, darker themes reign prevalent throughout the album’s lyrics. The heavier subject matters of these lyrics (with themes of loss, suicide and general melancholy) are a bit polarizing. While they inarguably have more depth than those on the band’s debut, the dichotomy of these lyrics contrasted against the fast-paced exhilaration of the music itself may be a bit jarring, but it’s also an interesting deviation from the frat party vibe prevalent on Treats.

Although perhaps not as experimental or adventurous as Treats, Reign of Terror is still a solid successor that, for the most part, avoids the dreaded sophomore slump. Treats’ edginess may have dulled into a mature sound that sometimes crosses the line into sedation, but perhaps this departure is appropriate for the duo. If nothing else, it proves that their sound is evolving into something that stays true to the momentum of Treats while still discovering new ground.

Printed on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 as: Pop duo trades in eccentricity for maturity in second album