Album Review: Sleigh Bells – “Jessica Rabbit”

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Music has been growing with enormous strides in the 2010’s, but so far indie rock has had trouble catching up. While R&B and trap music have had no trouble balancing innovation with populism, indie rock has spent its free time regurgitating the worst 90’s music imaginable like an awkward younger brother trying on his Gen X older sister’s mom jeans. Surprisingly Sleigh Bells newest record Jessica Rabbit reveals them as one of the few indie bands trying to change with the times and embrace new musical ideas…. the only problem is they suck at it.

By all logic I should like this album; the production is amazing, the guitars are razor sharp, and the rhythm section bubbles with electropop beats and trap snares, all signs of a band with real ambition.  The best way to explain this records issues is that while they’ve adopted the “sound” of the pop world they’ve kept the “spirit” of their phony indie past, which means the music is anything but catchy or coherent.

Everything about this record is chaotic, but not in a colorful fun-house way, more in the boring, structure-less way, where every song bleeds into the other. Pounding dance beats give way to compressed acoustic guitars, which are soon replaced by rushing pop punk riffs, all colliding against each other in an experimental hodgepodge. If the band had the good sense to write strong hooks to bind these songs together the mess of kaleidoscopic sounds would be intoxicating, but given their jumbled state they come across more as thrown together ideas rather than actual tunes.

Sure, trap artists like Lil Uzi Vert have a similar lack of distinction between songs, but those artists have the benefit of catchy sloganeering, as well as the good sense to let their voices melt into the beat. Alexis Krauss on the other hand just yells over every track, always sounding out of touch with the legitimately lovely pop beats surrounding her.

The most grating aspect of Jessica Rabbit is that it should work, instrumentally it captures the computerized insanity of modern pop music and production wise it’s top notch, but we live in a pop world and if a record wants to compete it needs actual songs to turn it into a commercially gratifying product. Day by day, EDM artists grow savier and more song oriented, finding new ways to compress their cyborg-ish sounds into Top 40 manna, and if rock bands like Sleight Bells want to stay relevant they need to be trying harder.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Sean Romano is 21 year old who lives in New York City. He is currently studying Journalism at SUNY Purchase where he writes for The Beat, the music and culture magazine of the school. He knows more than about pop music than is probably healthy and spends most of his time listening to tunes from the 2000’s, the '80s, and the '60s.