Sleigh Bells

Jessica Rabbit

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For Sleigh Bells, the blurring boundaries between pop's mainstream and underground were a blessing and a curse. Though they cranked out three albums of subversive sweetness and noise in as many years, Top 40 pop caught up with them almost as quickly: Demi Lovato's 2015 album Confident featured a song that sounded similar enough to their work that they sued for copyright infringement. More importantly, by the time they released Bitter Rivals, it felt like Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss had exhausted their music's extremes. During the years between that album and Jessica Rabbit -- a gap as long as the time it took to make all their other albums -- the duo recalibrated, borrowing some of the gloss from the mainstream pop so fond of Krauss and Miller's rough edges. The duo began splicing the opposite sides of their sound on Bitter Rivals, and they continue the trend even more creatively on their fourth full-length: instead of just tweaking their dynamics, they play fast and loose with the most conventional and experimental parts of their music. Sometimes the results are outlandish, even by Miller and Krauss' standards: "Throw Me Down the Stairs," which combines '80s metal riffs with ambient passages, is one of their wildest pastiches yet. Other times, they're almost straightforward; "Baptism by Fire" delivers sparkly pop that makes the most of Krauss' vocals. More than ever, her voice is the anchor for Sleigh Bells' stylistic swings. "I'm loyal -- for now," she sings at one point on Jessica Rabbit, capturing the moment-to-moment existence within their songs. It also feels like there's more purpose, and righteous anger, anchoring their experiments. Authenticity is a major theme, with Krauss crooning "the real thing" over guitar outbursts on "It's Just Us Now" and comparing blood to plastic on "Lightning Turns Sawdust Gold." Though the duo excel at putting their contents under pressure on songs like "Crucible" and "Rule Number One," where the riffs ripple like shockwaves, Sleigh Bells also allow listeners a few more breathers. The "uh oh"s that punctuate "Hyper Dark"'s shattered balladry hint at Jessica Rabbit's state of emergency, while "Torn Clean" is one of the band's prettiest songs yet. Contrasts like these have been Sleigh Bells' modus operandi since the beginning, but Jessica Rabbit's mix of brashness and finesse proves they can still thrill.

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