The opening title track off of the third Sleigh Bells album, Bitter Rivals, must have been carefully crafted to both introduce listeners to the record and build anticipation for what is to come.
It doesn’t start with a bang—rather, the duo begins the album with a groovy guitar riff (with really great tones) and some minor backing percussion, including a quiet chorus of snapping and…barking dogs—but within a minute, the song comes crashing in to reveal the band’s signature electronic indie-pop sound. The driving rhythms, crunchy guitars and frantic synthesizers establish an entirely different, chaotic vibe (made more chaotic by Alexis Krauss’ layered and heavily affected vocals) that juxtaposes the much mellower opening.
Sleigh Bells exercise and play around with these quick, often unexpected, dynamic shifts in tempo and melody throughout Bitter Rivals. Of course, the group’s bread-and-butter is still in writing catchy, noisy guitar-based pop songs with a distinct electronic edge, and there’s plenty of that to go around on the album, but the duo is also adept at recognizing when to pepper in moments of contrasting instrumentation to freshen up the songs and reinvigorate the listener.
In addition, these variations in arrangement serve to display the duo’s ever-growing range as songwriters, but it’s not always necessary to slow things down or drastically alter a song’s makeup to do that, because underneath all of those crunchy, distorted guitars and pulsing synthesizers and digital drums, Sleigh Bells is a pop band. And as a pop band, its songs ultimately depend on crafting memorable melodies that resonate with a listener, which for the most part, they’re able to accomplish on nearly every track on Bitter Rivals.
These creative movements make Bitter Rivals an exciting and powerful record, because it reminds the listener that sometimes it’s okay to follow an idea into unexpected territory and shake things up. — Paste