Sleigh Bells – ‘Bitter Rivals’

Poppier and punchier than ever, the duo are fighting fit

Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller got into boxing while making this album, and the Brooklyn duo would wake, train and eat together before hitting the studio to bash out their trademark noise-pop bangers. Coming over all Kick-Ass has paid off, because ‘Bitter Rivals’ is their toughest and most focused work yet. It’s also their poppiest, which is very much a good thing.

Before meeting Miller, a guitarist with an experimental hardcore background, Krauss paid her dues in a flop US girl band. ‘Bitter Rivals’, then, functions as a sort of synthesis of Sleigh Bells’ respective musical apprenticeships. Last year’s ‘Reign Of Terror’ album was noticeably slicker than 2010’s debut ‘Treats’, and ‘Bitter Rivals’ is even more savagely catchy. It wields its hooks like weapons.

Splicing cherry-drop melodies with a walloping guitar din, the opening title track serves as the album’s no messin’ mission statement. Make no mistake – this is pop music to soundtrack a demolition zone. ‘Young Legends’ and ‘To Hell With You’ are musclebound mutant R&B tunes; ‘Sugarcane’ is a girl-group hit drowned in distortion; ‘Minnie’ mixes metal with K-pop and ‘Tiger Kit’ sounds like Guns N’ Roses bumping up against Janet Jackson. Most surprising of all is ‘24’ – proof that Sleigh Bells can sound wistful as well as brattish and badass.

But their tender side is by no means a signal that they’ve gone soft. ‘Sing Like A Wire’ is as loud and corrosive as anything they’ve concocted, and Miller’s walls of noise still block out most of Krauss’s words – though a handful of fierce, funny lines sneak through, like her taunt on ‘Love Sick’: “I’m sending gummy bears to the electric chair”. It’s a fitting conclusion to an album in which every moment of sweetness is followed by a deadly blast.

Nick Levine