Despite its newfound musical relevance, the influential duo struggles to evolve beyond its signature template of empowering pop hooks and overdriven arrangements.
In 2016, Demi Lovato and Sleigh Bells were opponents in a copyright infringement lawsuit, despite struggling with the same basic problem: How do you recreate the bold, bleacher-stomping jolt of the band’s 2010 debut Treats without ripping it off completely? Nowadays, that sound is virtually public domain: The term “hyperpop” once described the duo of Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller before it became a dominant genre. The charts are filled with ascendant acts blowing bubblegum melodies over razored guitars, while squabbles over cheerleading outfits, prom dresses, and pilfered pop-punk hooks span generations. As it turns out, four years of silence have accomplished what the band’s last few releases—Bitter Rivals, Jessica Rabbit, and Kid Kruschev—could not: make Sleigh Bells sound like a part of indie rock’s present. More than anything, it’s this wave of goodwill that makes Texis feel like the most legitimately inspired Sleigh Bells album in nearly a decade, despite it not being altogether different from what preceded it.
The duo’s trajectory to this point is a familiar one: immediately perfecting an audiovisual aesthetic, a “more of the same, but slightly less” follow-up, and a much longer and intermittently successful stretch that stopped shy of a total teardown or reinvention. Texis reaches a new stage where Sleigh Bells acknowledge what worked in the first place without admitting defeat or slumping back to their old tricks. Opener “SWEET75” promises a victory big enough to amplify any mundane achievement, and whether it’s the first new Sleigh Bells song you’ve heard since 2017 or 2010, it reaffirms their vision: riffs from an era of stuffed trousers and hockey-stick guitars, overdriven drum machines, and lyrics set within the spectrum of cheerleader to motivational speaker. It also reestablishes the relationship between Krauss and Miller that’s served the band far longer than their method of brickwalling every single element, one resembling that of an R&B powerhouse and their tinkering, savant producer.
Sleigh Bells were hardly the only band at the turn of the 2010s trying to subvert classic forms of pop with a chain of distortion pedals, but unlike their scuzzier, sloppier peers, their music always threatened the possibility of becoming the real thing. Yet no matter how much command and charisma Krauss brings to Texis, it still sounds quaint, not necessarily catchier than any number of contemporary bands who don’t face the same hang-ups from indie listeners. Sleigh Bells still know a good hook when they hear one, and when they do, they repeat it as much as possible—to the point where it sounds like ad copy. Whenever Krauss shouts “I feel like dynamite!” throughout “Locust Laced,” the music doesn’t conjure a specific feeling so much as the tone of an empowering rom-com on Netflix, trying to create a vibe where none previously existed.
Texis embodies a modern approach to music consumption by recognizing that only 20 seconds of a song really need to stick. Isolate that much time from just about anywhere on the album and there’s something invigorating going on: the horror-show keys and punchy vocal samples of “An Acre Lost,” the way “Justine Go Genesis” runs the drum-n-bass/nu-metal hybrids of Art Angels through a Big Muff, or the chorus of “I’m Not Down” beating their synthy, festival-pop successors at their own game.
Nearly all of these fleeting moments of crackling energy call for a greater, unifying purpose. And yet, it is difficult to trace any emotional throughline in the music. What motivates Sleigh Bells at this point? Even if Pom Pom Squad, Illuminati Hotties, or Turnstile could not exist without Treats, they’ve all advanced on its template by imprinting their own personality on everything they touch. While Sleigh Bells have made significant evolutions since their auspicious beginning, they haven’t been able to displace the original. The most emblematic moment of Texis happens at the end of “SWEET75.” “Aren’t you a little too old for rock and roll?,” Krauss sings, and it’s a rhetorical question: Sleigh Bells might hint at changing their own narrative but the old one still works fine.
Buy: Rough Trade