Sleigh Bells, “Jessica Rabbit”

Sleigh Bellssleigh_bells-2016-jessica_rabbit
Jessica Rabbit
OMNIAN/TORN CLEAN
5/10

The metal guitars are still there, and the bratty fuck-you vocals were never going anywhere. Yep, Sleigh Bells are as precocious as they’ve always been, but on their fourth album, Jessica Rabbit, the duo of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss has obviously been hard at work on letting go, allowing changes in mood, tempo, and ambience into their once-rigid style guide.

Three years in the making, the new album borders on the conceptual, its fourteen tracks a combination of fully fleshed-out ideas and self-referential one-note interludes—to wit, track two, a sub–ninety second blast named for their label, Torn Clean, sounds like it could be a commercial for same.

The album opens with the familiar-sounding, ’80s-flavored metal epic “It’s Just Us Now,” which layers a fuzzed-out guitar line and vocals that could give Katy Perry pause over heavy beats. In fact, similarities to the pop diva are everywhere on the album, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Tempo and dynamic changes are everywhere on the album, to the point of excessiveness. “Throw Me Down the Stairs,” for instance, combines three distinct but interconnected parts over seven or even eight musical sections that all eventually come together in a cohesive manner. “I Know Not to Count on You” is a surprise of an almost-instrumental where the only guitars are acoustic and the vocals don’t appear until the second half. The last quarter of the album feels a little redundant—good tunes, sure, but the constant grind can be a strain on the casual listener.

There’s plenty to be said for well-executed pop music, of course, and Krauss and Miller’s attempts to expand their sound beyond their redlining anti-comfort zone are admirable. They may well deliver a pop masterpiece one day, but Jessica Rabbit isn’t it.

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