The fact that noise pop is a legitimate enough genre to garner its own music festival, podcasts and (of course) Wikipedia page can be unsettling as well as eye roll-inducing. As of late, the subgenres that have branched out of independent labels not only sound like adjectives arbitrarily pulled out of a hat (see: glo-fi, trip hop and glitterphonics — I made one of those up, but good luck guessing which one), but also just plain awful. The idea of noise pop seems contradictory in the most obnoxious way imaginable, like a nü metal Miley Cyrus. Despite the not-so-positive preconceived notions that can arise from hearing a style described as the aforementioned, Sleigh Bells continues to shatter any and all negative expectations with their third album, Bitter Rivals.

Bitter Rivals

Sleigh Bells
Mom + Pop

The title track opens the album with the most natural sounds ever to be heard on a Sleigh Bells album, from the hard strums of an acoustic guitar all the way down to the barking dogs in the background, before lead singer Alexis Krauss explodes, singing, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times / I had to kill the new sheriff in town.” Pounding percussion and muffled synths serve as a fitting foundation for Krauss’s combative presence before she reverts back to her softer side, gently crooning her way through the chorus.

The back and forth of subtlety and aggression laid out on the opening track proves to be the recurring theme of the album. “Sing Like a Wire” starts out with a simple beat as Krauss softly sings, “static in the sentence, static in the dirt.” When she finally bursts into the chorus yelling, “Sing like a wire!” it doesn’t go unnoticed. These captivating contrasts give Bitter Rivals peaks of varying interest and moments of surprise, ensuring that no one’s attention can stray far from the album for too long.

Bitter Rivals also marks the most melodic shift forward for the group, with genuinely singable tracks like “Young Legends” and “Tiger Kit,” both of which show off Krauss’s vocal abilities outside of yelling on top of the hyper-intense bevy of instruments. This simplicity may be due in part to Andrew Dawson, who mixed the album and also served as the engineer for Kanye West’s Yeezus earlier this year — which was noted for its own stripped-down sound. The sing-along style of both of these tracks offers a played-down version to the typical noise-pop genre. Instead, they explore a refreshing sound to what the group seemed to become accustomed to on Reign of Terror, which came off as too hyped up for any substance to shine through.

While Bitter Rivals doesn’t mark a complete departure for Sleigh Bells, it further proves that all bands that get classified under some unintentionally hilarious subgenre deserve the flak we’d assume based solely on the moniker. If anything, the band proves noise pop is a genre all its own, and one to be reckoned with, at that.

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