Album Review: Sleigh Bells – Texis

[Mom + Pop; 2021]

No one would fault you if you’d forgotten about Sleigh Bells, the noise pop duo from Brooklyn. After 2010’s pulsating debut Treats, the twosome hit a downward spiral with dud after dud. The direct follow-up Reign of Terror wasn’t bad, but under a retro light its shortcomings are easier to pinpoint.

Sleigh Bells made a splash at the tail-end of 2009, a time when indie rock’s mainstream crossover was hitting its peak thanks to the likes of Animal Collective and Arcade Fire, and the next hot thing was being snatched up and processed for mass consumption. Noise pop was marketed well in the early 2010s, and Sleigh Bells were born out of the same scene that gave us mediocre flavor of the months like Cults and Best Coast, while the likes of Wavves, Japandroids, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were being pushed towards the main stage.

Sleigh Bells were lumped in with the scene for good reason but have always felt more diverse. The scene evolved, and noise pop never regained momentum. Sleigh Bells didn’t give up though. The tandem worked tirelessly to stay relevant, but nothing since Treats, least of all 2017’s tepid mini-album Kid Kruschev, recaptured that zeal evident on their debut.

It’s best to think of Texis, the duo’s first release since then, as the Halloween (2018) of Sleigh Bells’ career – try to forget everything that happened between the original and now and you’ll find yourself enjoying it quite a bit. While Texis is nowhere near as thrilling as Treats, and Halloween (2018) isn’t as good as Halloween (1978) either, but taken in isolation and on their own merits, these follow-ups offer plenty worth your time.

Texis finds the duo rejuvenated for the first time in a decade. Every inch of the record is bursting with flavor – popping colors and textures that last few outings considerably lacked. Texis rectifies many of the errors Sleigh Bells made before – errors like the inclusion of hollow R&B attempts on 2013’s embarrassing Bitter Rivals. The noise returns with Texis, and it brings such a jolt to proceedings that it goes to show that it should never have left Sleigh Bells’ arsenal.

The Mortal Kombat-esque opener “SWEET75” starts harder than usual but mutates into a danceable number, with vocalist Alexis Krauss sounding primed and ready for action as she sings “here we go, here we go.” Boppers like “I’m Not Down” can still rile up a crowd for sure, and Krauss is in top form once again, pairing with guitarist Derek Miller more slickly. “Justine Go Genesis” houses some of Krauss’ most playful lyrics, like “I’m a cavity, comedy girl / The best night of your life / I really wanna blow your mind,” but it’s a feint, as she follows it up with a hard slap to the face: “But I haven’t got the time.” Another highlight is “Locust Laced”, where handclaps reminiscent of Treats underline Krauss’ shout of “I feel like dynamite!”

This album won’t reinvent noise pop for the 2020s, but Sleigh Bells revisiting their roots was the right decision for a band who had been stale for too long. The pair have always had fun with their music, especially live, but on Texis it’s now fun for the listener again.

It’s that fun aspect that makes Texis feel like a return to form, even if it’s not necessarily a massive sonic step forward. It still suffers from a formula, like on “Tennessee Tips” where the vocal manipulations and handclaps indicate another identical romp to the handful we’ve heard previously on this record and earlier ones. This might be the downfall of the genre, not necessarily Sleigh Bells; there’s a homogeneity that occurs with noise pop, where the noise is just the prime rib gravy poured over regular old mashed potato pop.

Even if Texis fails to reposition Sleigh Bells as a noise act to be reckoned with, it does succeed in giving us a glimpse into what could have been if the duo had stayed the course. It may be a few years late, but it’s the best the band have sounded in quite some time, and it’s nice to have Sleigh Bells back where they belong.