Question: When is an EP not an EP?
Answer: When it’s a ‘mini-album’.
Almost a year to the day since the release of their fourth studio album, Jessica Rabbit, noise-pop duo, Sleigh Bells are back with the not-EP-but-not-full-album-either mini-album; Kid Kruschev. Obviously Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller had some things to get off their chests since – and who can blame them? 2016/17 haven’t exactly been vintage years for any one (or any where).
Bookened by the two (mini) album highlights, Kid Kruschev opens with ‘Blue Trash Mattress Fire’, and it’s an atmospheric start; Krauss’ filtered vocals and chiming synths are finally punctured by Millers over-driven guitar. It’s that mix of instrumentation we got on Jessica Rabbit and joins up well with Krauss’ winding lyrical narrative. In fact, ‘Blue Trash…’ is like a more fearful, subdued version of Jessica Rabbit opener, ‘It’s Just Us Now’; morphing in and out of its various and defined parts.
However, as the track moves into the second half, we begin to see why they decided they decided to put out a new record hot on the heels of their previous one; the ongoing American horror show. “I used to drink gasoline in the morning / and the middle of the day on the trampoline”, Krauss sings, as we reach the pinnacle of the tracks over-driven delivery before stating “I’ll do it, I’ll jump / This shit is too much, it’s fucking me up / Enough is enough / Laughing hysterically at the comedy and the tragedy”; Krauss manages to sum up so succinctly not only the way she feels, but how a lot of people must’ve be feeling over the past 12 months (i.e. pretty flipping scared/confused/exasperated).
And we get more of that ‘Krauss on the edge’ with the final track, ‘And Saints’; a haunting two minutes and forty nine seconds in which we find Krauss at the centre of everyone’s concern, from her Mom and friends, to the delivery guy; “My mom keeps calling me / My friends keep texting me… Delivery guy wants to know if I’m okay / Nah, man, but thanks”. And by the time the final lyrics of “Cheer up, Gear up, Stand Up”, you’re not sure if its too late for such reassurances.
There are no moments of belting vocals here, nor any of Millers over-driven guitar – just a simple, pulsing synth and a delicate vocal delivery. A far cry from the band’s beginnings, but a simplicity and tenderness that has been missing since the days before 2013’s Bitter Rivals.
Sandwiched between these two highlights we get mix of hits and misses. ‘Rainmaker’ features a nice display of falsetto and belt-out vocals, along with Millers guitar accenting the murmuring synth parts, while ‘Panic Drills’ shows a nice mix of atmospheric synths and modulated guitar work, which often threatens to drown out Krauss’ vocal, without ever quite committing.
‘Show Me The Door’ starts out with some kind of discordant club drone, with Krauss adding some clarity of melody when the track hits its main hook/chorus. However, there’s little that lingers in the mind once it’s done, leaving ‘Florida Thunderstorm’ to prick the attention once more with its inclusion of an acoustic guitar (!), the sounds of a Florida swamp (!!), and a slight lyrical reprise of the previous track (?!?).
So, this surprise (but not unwelcome) release is 7 tracks, varying in degrees of quality and relevance; not quite justifying another full albums worth of material, but then again, still warranting enough of our attention. Because, quite simply, it’s hard to ignore a band like Sleigh Bells – a band which created such a buzz when debut album, Treats, dropped in 2010.
That buzz, be it from the music press or coming out of Derek Miller’s guitar, has waned ever so slightly over subsequent albums, with the ‘noise’ in ‘noise-pop’ slowly taking a back seat to the secondary ‘pop’ elements. Still, bands evolve, which is exactly what Sleigh Bells have done, as vocalist Alexis Krauss moves more and more into the centre of the bands musical output; the cheerleader has become the quarterback.
While late comers to the Sleigh Bells project may find more to like in Kid Kruschev (and by proxy, Jessica Rabbit), those who long for the high-school over-drive rah rah of ‘Infinity Guitars’ may be left wanting. But maybe it’s time for those people to “cheer up, gear up, stand up” (or go listen to the new Taylor Swift album instead).
Kid Kruschev is out now via Torn Clean / Lucky Number.