Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sleigh Bells

  • Treats [Mom + Pop, 2010] A-
  • Reign of Terror [Mom + Pop, 2012] A-
  • Bitter Rivals [Mom + Pop, 2013]  
  • Bitter Rivals [Mom + Pop, 2013] A-
  • Jessica Rabbit [Torn Clean, 2016] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Treats [Mom + Pop, 2010]
Exploiting a simple yet extreme-seeming variation on indie's noize-toon dichotomy, a made-to-order thrill-of-the-whatever band crosses the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Derek Miller's orchestrated distortions combine the crudeness of the Reid brothers and the virtuosity of Nick Zinner while Alexis-not-Alison Krauss plays the female principle for a childlike sweetness belied by what lyrics you can make out, which suggest in toto that what little human contact this band makes room for will have to wait until such time as sonic immersion fails to satisfy their spiritual yearnings. That their most charming song by far is the straight GeorgeClinton rip "Rill Rill," which leaves open the question of what they can do for an encore. I'll grant that minimalist bands always leave that question open if you'll grant that too often the answer is repeat themselves. A-

Reign of Terror [Mom + Pop, 2012]
I'm happier than I would have figured that they've cut down on their distortion-flaunting pile-of-sound shtick. Several times, in fact, Derek Miller makes me love guitar sounds as bell-like as Alexis Krauss's crystalline soprano, as tapered as her gorgeous gams. Then there's the dying siren that repeats addictively through "You Lost Me"--the one that makes me say, So what if the lyric is about singing from the grave, death is real, and anyway, I really want to hear that sound again right about--yeah! After all, "Comeback Kid" does stay positive no matter how brutally Miller pummels his own riffs with that drum sample. That's nice, right? Elsewhere it's just sweet sensation. Succumb--succumb. A-

Bitter Rivals [Mom + Pop, 2013]
[2013 Dean's List: 52]  

Bitter Rivals [Mom + Pop, 2013]
Although in fact album three is where tiny-voiced Alexis Krauss achieves aesthetic parity with humongous-noised Derek Miller and where megasynths do duty for guitars that always eschewed articulation anyway, I get the general tendency to assume this 2013 entry was more of the loud-minimalist arty-nihilist same. That's the kind of thing that happens when you eschew articulation. But listen just a little closer and admit that actual nihilist it ain't. "Young legends die and so will" admittedly cuts it close. "Just because you can doesn't mean you should," however, most decidedly does not. And note that the title "To Hell With You" shortens a line with a different feel: "I'll go to hell with you." Which even in this much more hellish time we can hope proves unnecessary. A-

Jessica Rabbit [Torn Clean, 2016]
On their own label, with Eminem/Fiona Apple adjutant Mike Elizondo overseeing half the album, they shift focus to Alexis Krauss's teenpop roots--"I Can't Stand You Anymore" has the killer chorus, "I Can Only Stare" the balladic gravitas, and both are Elizondo tracks. This is a healthy development with plenty of upside, but it works better in principle than in practice. Krauss may never master pop's heartfelt commitment to putative sincerity, and the one with the killer chorus is also one of the two where Elizondo claims composition as well as production credits. The sincerest is "Baptism by Fire" toward the end, where Krauss's "I want to listen to your heart" adds a welcome sweetness to the band's raging rhetorical parameters. Elizondo has a writing credit on that one too. B+