These songs will stick with you.
You can absolutely have too much of a good thing, and that may be a problem with loud-soft indie pop darlings Sleigh Bells. Since their sophomore effort Reign of Terror, the band has been accused of staleness, but when they rolled out their fourth LP Jessica Rabbit earlier this year, many were appalled by its sharp stylistic left turn. Die-hard fans rushed to their defense, chiding an increasingly antsy music-listening public for refusing to put up with a band that picked a lane and stuck to it. On the other hand, many critics found the band’s signature sound to be a well of diminishing returns.
Yet when they first burst onto the scene with Treats (2010), there was no one quite like Sleigh Bells. Their balls-to-the-wall approach was a necessary disruption of lazy indie-rock shoegazers, and the marriage of Alexis Krauss’s sticky melodies with Derek Edward Miller’s face-melting guitar riffs collectively blew our minds. If Kid Kruschev, the group’s new “mini-album,” isn’t in the business of blowing minds, it at least carries the spark first touched on with songs like “Rill Rill” and twists them into more interesting shapes than the moderately disappointing Jessica Rabbit.
That album’s synth-heavy approach, which at its worst felt nearly anonymous, is still present here. But this time, Sleigh Bells seems to remember what made fans love them in the first place. “Florida Thunderstorm” is far more tender than anything on the band’s first two albums, but startling crescendos preserve the push-pull of their hard-hitting early highlights. “Blue Trash Mattress Fire” sounds more like straight-up fan service, preserving the massive drum beats, industrial whirs, and diamond-sharp guitars that typically define a Sleigh Bells album.
By sticking to this slightly expanded formula, Kid Kruschev both helps and hurts itself. The pair’s songwriting has never been their strong suit, and some of the more stripped-back moments, while pretty, don’t have much on which to hang themselves. The other, more tried-and-true moments genuinely work, but these carry the specter of disappointment. Fortunately, nothing here quite screams, “the well has finally run dry.” 2013’s Bitter Rivals, while somehow controversial, was a hell of a good time. But by that album’s final track, it was easy to ask “okay now what?” Kid Kruschev answers by saying “I guess we’ll do more of this?” They’ve got an almost endlessly exciting blueprint, but it’s hard not to ask whether that blueprint is meant to actually build something.
Nevertheless, these songs will stick with you. The sexy strut of “Rainmaker” and the dreamy boom-clap of “Panic Drills” linger in the mind after the album’s ultra-brief 20 minute runtime. Like the best pop music, they wield anonymity as a tool to make us feel invincible. Kid Kruschev may signal that Sleigh Bells are in grave danger of giving us too much of a good thing, but it turns out that thing is still quite good.