Texis is a little too uniform, but is proof that Sleigh Bells understands their own strengths, even if it doesn’t do much to further their sound.
For many, Sleigh Bells may solely exist in hazy memories of 2010–2012, though they have in fact kept together and continued to release albums with some regularity. 2013’s Bitter Rivals would likely be the cut-off point for most, the album seemingly the crest of their aesthetic’s potential, and the band seems to have felt similarly, reorienting with the founding of their own label (Torn Clean) on which they released 2016’s Jessica Rabbit. That album put in some conscious effort to advance the Sleigh Bells project, skewing toward expansive, fluid melodies and working vocalist Alexis Krauss’s range harder than ever before. A follow-up EP, Kid Kruschev, came out in short order and kept to this newish direction, but neither project brought them back closer to the peak of their visibility. Now, four years on from Kid Kruschev and eight from their last project for Mom + Pop, Sleigh Bells return to that label with Texis, refocusing on the stylings and compositions that initially cast them as icons of a particular millennial demographic.
While Sleigh Bells aren’t likely to return to the heights of 2010’s Treats and its various, ubiquitous singles, they are savvy in their timing, recognizing a cultural nostalgia for that album as well as the emergence of popular music trends (re: hyperpop) that share aesthetic proclivities similar to those that informed that record. To their credit, Krauss and co-Sleigh Bell Derek E. Miller sound totally engaged and appropriately contemporary on Texis, convincingly bridging their not-so-distant past with the current-day music that has descended from it. The songs here pull off the classic Sleigh Bells combo of vaguely ominous lyrics delivered as clipped schoolyard chant/cheer and sing-songy femme vocals over aggressive, thrashy guitar (the album art seems to allude to Pantera as an influence) complemented by noisy production, as orchestrated by Miller. This time around, Miller’s compositions are geared more explicitly toward club-appropriate, danceable rhythms, frontloading these tracks with precise, establishing beats that provide a throughline through the usual Sleigh Bells sonic landscape. Opening track “SWEET75” sets this template while poking fun at the band’s present-day positioning in the culture (“Aren’t you a little too old for rock n’ roll?”), where subsequent songs move away from this light self-referentialism while sticking to this same compositional pattern, favoring punchy anthemic hooks more broad and vibey than profound (lead single “Locus Laced” has Krauss exclaiming “I feel like dynamite / I feel like dyin’ tonight”). Over the course of Texis’s lean, unrelenting 35 minutes, Krauss and Miller reassert themselves as captivating performers, though there’s a uniformity to these tracks that renders them unsatisfying outside the immediate moment in which they’re enjoyed. Still, Sleigh Bells has a keen understanding of their strengths even if they haven’t always known how to further them, and Texis is a testament to the fact that they can still turn it on when they want to.
Published as part of Album Roundup — September 2021 | Part 2.