***1/2 (out of four)
By now, you know if you care about Sleigh Bells. Since 2010’s “Treats” demolished what we thought we knew about the sonic combination of sweet and salty (and 2012’s “Reign of Terror” mostly maintained excitement with heavier subject matter), Alexis Krauss’ vocals and Derek Miller’s guitars/production have established that rare thing: An original sound.
With the new “Bitter Rivals,” the badass New York duo further learns to blend and complement its assets, with smaller differences between bangers and ballads. That lends this third album added confidence and purpose; in fact, “Young Legends” suggests the band is well-aware of the temporary spotlight inherent to a life on stage and is determined to stay relevant. Standout “Sing Like a Wire” nods to Michael Jackson and showcases how much added power Sleigh Bells achieves when holding us in suspense for the guitar’s arrival. When it finally smashes through the relative softness, Kool Aid-man style, it’s easy to imagine a crowd of thousands losing control over mind mind and body in unison.
Lyrically there’s not much identifiable storytelling on display, and let’s try to ignore that the album-opening title track awkwardly begins with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Yet it fits thematically as Krauss, as commanding as she’s ever been on record, sings on both offense and defense throughout the album. The refrain of “Beware” on the “Comeback Kid”-recalling “Sugarcane” could be taken as a cooed warning or a sincere word of caution. Is “To Hell With You,” a song whose production almost invites backing from a string section, a promise to battle endlessly or a declaration of unconditional loyalty? The album toes the emotional line between BFFs and frenemies, closing with “Love Sick” and the reminder, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
Sometimes that’s the sort of wisdom only hindsight, and a band in command of its abilities, can deliver.
In concert: Nov. 10 at Metro
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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