Even as Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss have moved away from and fudged with the blown-out, hook-driven simplicity of their much-hyped 2010 debut full-length, Treats, they’ve mostly kept on keepin‘ on, tipping a hat to what made Sleigh Bells, well, Sleigh Bells. The foolproof template: Miller programs super beats to hurdle towers of beefed-up hair-metal guitar while Krauss’ vocals twirl and cut through the racket like a ballerina crossing the Santa Monica Freeway. You can refer to it as “noise pop” or “shred pop” or whatever—it’s mostly just loud and fun as hell. With the new Jessica Rabbit, however, the confetti cannons that were omnipresent up to and through 2013’s Bitter Rivals have been locked away in exchange for complicated mood lighting that ultimately feels less substantive.
Miller and Krauss get caught up in their own ambitions on Jessica Rabbit. The album’s opener and its first single, “It’s Just Us Now,” has the look and feel of classic-era Sleigh Bells with guitar squeals streaking through the background (maybe you can learn to live with the rhythmically jarring transition from verse to chorus), but it’s more of an exception to the rule. No one wants to keep recycling records, of course, but the reputation of Sleigh Bells, with its black sunglasses and jean-jacket tough look, is so predicated on the hardest hardcore-pop sound. It’s part of what makes it glorious, naive entertainment. Its heavy-handed use of electronics and multi-tiered arrangements on tracks like “Lightning Turns Sawdust Gold” and “Crucible”—the latter of which can sound just a few tweaks away from a Battles jam—actually works to muddle the band’s sound rather than reinvent it.
One effect of toning down the party and cranking up the pensiveness is that Krauss is left with plenty of space to mill around, her vocals less about complementing the torpedoing guitars and crackling beats of earlier records, and much more the focus. During the Atari Teenage Riot rhythms and EDM-like swells of “Unlimited Dark Paths” she somehow skates atop the turmoil, while on “I Know Not To Count On You”—following a good minute of frivolous electro build-up—she accompanies a wispy, frail acoustic-guitar riff, sounding as vulnerable as she ever has before. And though Krauss does her damnedest to work with the quick-shifting rhythms and deep grab bag of ideas on Jessica Rabbit, she still sounds like she’s trying to keep up with its zigzagging movement. Sleigh Bells has grown up plenty since their 2009 lightning-strike arrival, but perhaps that strike is starting to feel like more of a distant memory than it should.