What strikes me most about the new album from Sleigh Bells isn’t the misspelled title, or the slightly creepy, blank expression of the woman on the cover. No, it’s the change in sound. Listen carefully to debut single “Locust Laced.” There’s a tautness there that wasn’t there before. It’s courtesy of an electronic beat that underscores their signature blast of guitar, tempered with Alexis Krauss’s vocals. I’m not sure I’m a huge fan; I really liked the rough-hewn edges of Treats and Reign of Terror.
That tautness is used to better effect in “SWEET75,” which despite an opening that’s reminiscent of a video game soundtrack is one of the best on the album. Here, Krauss’s voice stands strong; it’s an equal counterpoint to Derek Miller’s guitar rather than a layer to it.
Her voice fits the lyrical themes of Texis, which cover familiar Sleigh Bells ground: outcasts (“tough kids with high IQs”) and a vintage feel (“You’re legitimate rock and roll”). Some of the lyrics, however, are so much of a stretch that they’re confusing. See “Justine Go Genesis,” a mouthful of a tile that features the bridge, “My main man, Mary Anne is holding my hand.” Try saying that three times fast!
Overall, it’s not the duo’s strongest release. I do applaud them for trying something new, and for exploring electronic music to stay current. However, the execution doesn’t quite work – at least not for me.
I’m going to open this post by acknowledging that yes, Beyoncé is really hard to replicate. She’s got her own distinct sound, she’s a titan of the industry, and when Lemonade dropped, none of us were ever the same. So with all that said, let’s discuss how a noise pop duo took on one of her biggest hits.
Sleigh Bells is probably best known for “Rill Rill,” which I’ll write about in more depth for a later Throwback Thursday. It established their sound as amp-heavy and electric. Lead singer Alexis Krauss has a delicate voice that often gets lost in the mix. With their cover of “Irreplaceable,” it’s brought out to shine. And indeed, here it almost seems to float. Derek Miller has traded his electric guitar for an acoustic one, which allows Krauss’s vocals to slide smoothly, front and center. Neat little finger snaps provide the backing beat. It’s a subtle touch that supports the strumming guitar in a nice way.
Krauss doesn’t attempt any vocal runs; she seems aware that that’s Beyoncé’s purview. Instead, she and Miller are exploring their own interpretation of the song. In their hands, it becomes softer, coffeehouse-esque. That’s surprising for fans of, say, “Infinity Guitars” or “Crown on the Ground,” two other big songs from their debut Treats, where “Rill Rill” also appears. I think it’s fun when bands explore something new, both in terms of a cover and in terms of what they can do sonically. When the two come together, it’s particularly refreshing.
An occasional series where I talk about the songs I love and why.
Ooooh that “boom-boom-crunk” of “Rill Rill” gets me every time. It takes me back to high school, to freshman year of college. “You’re all alone friend/Pick up the phone then/Ring, ring call them up/Tell them about the new trends.” That line always hits close to home: it talks about how you might be alone, but “they” are just on the other end of the line, ready for a connection…even if it’s as small as talking about the “new trends.”
It’s such a heavy song: Derek Miller’s powerful, static-y guitar riff is layered neatly over those pulsing drums. And yet Alexis Krauss floats so easily over those instrumentals – she’s got light pop vocals that fit her status as a former girl group singer.
And that’s what I love about this song. “Rill Rill” has weight. It speaks to that time in high school/early college when you’re just waiting: maybe you don’t want to be the one picking up the phone all the time. Krauss’s breathy voice sings about how “we form the tarot pack/and I’m aware of that.” She’s as clean and dismissive as any Mean Girls clique, with a guitar wall that forms the weight of high school emotions to back her words.