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 Scott Creney

Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals (Mom & Pop)

Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals (Mom & Pop)
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By Scott Creney

Sleigh Bells exist in that space between public declarations of magnificence and suicide attempts on the bathroom floor. That is to say, they know what it means to be a celebrity. Or aspire to become one.

So that means they’re singing about, what, 98% of us?

Speaking of which, anyone want to mash-up their new single with Kanye’s ‘Gold Digger’?

Get down girl, go ahead get down. It’s the sound of someone crossing the street while texting and getting hit by a bus.

Taken as an album, as a whole–which may or may not go against the aesthetic of the entire thing–Bitter Rivals vaguely traces a path from anger to pop to heartbreak to silence.

Sleigh Bells is able to embody anything without being the thing itself. They achieve their depth through a lack of depth. If it sounds like Jennifer Lopez in places, well how exactly does that make it worse? Excess is the point, indiscriminate and extending in all directions.

I’m not saying Sleigh Bells are visionaries. I just think they’re paying very close attention. They push the logics of consumerism/consumption/celebrity to their breaking point, a grotesque extreme that would qualify as parody if it didn’t feel so real.

‘Sugarcane’ may be the first sugar song that doesn’t reference cocaine. Or it may not. Or none of those songs referred to cocaine. Or it’s about Hawaiian politics. Or Cuba. Or all of these things. Or none of these things. Or 43% of these things. This multiplicity, this dissemblage of meaning into meaningless, a multiplicity that creates a singularity of nothingness, is what makes Sleigh Bells so contemporary, so of its time, so goddamned important.

Sleigh Bells exist alongside a group which may or may not include folks like Helen DeWitt, Michael Robbins, Harmony Korine, Sofia Coppola, Kenneth Goldsmith, and others (I have my suspicions about Ke$ha). These artists are all producing work that is saturated in 21st Century culture–celebrity, materialism, pornography, immediate gratification, persona v. personhood, exhibitionism/surveillance/voyeurism, disposability, and speed. They’ve swallowed every dense post-modern text and spit it back out as art in a way that suggests post-modernism is dead and we need a new term.

I nominate hyper-modernism. Unlike, say, Arcade Fire, Sleigh Bells don’t try to provide a respite from contemporary culture, they are trying to race alongside it. There is no distance, no commentary. Just trying on costumes, putting on masks, and seeing what might come out of your mouth. They speak from inside the culture. An act of ventriloquism, even if it means people might think you’re a dummy.

Album closer ‘Love Sick’ shares a title with a Bob Dylan song that was the first song on a Grammy Award-winning album. It was also used in a Victoria’s Secret commercial. Sleigh Bells already knew this. They make music that is an absurdity that is not an absurdity because it is still less absurd than the reality it reflects. Got that?

One of the last lines of the song goes There’s a heart in my chest where a hole used to be. There’s a hole in my chest where a heart used to be. Always both, each idea containing the potential of its opposite. Then I’m sending gummy bears to the electric chair. The death penalty and candy. Horror and sweetness.

Sleigh Bells are alive. Worship them.

7 Responses to Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals (Mom & Pop)

  1. Tim Clarke October 21, 2013 at 10:45 am

    I have ceased to trust your album reviews, Mr Creney, and they’ve become flags for albums to avoid. So thanks for that.

  2. Ben green October 21, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Ooh, now I want to check it out. This is a better thought-out version of what I thought about their first album, which is all I’ve heard so far. I remember being happy about that album, because it overtook Salem for me in my mental end-of-year award category, “The Crystal Castles Award for Pop Music That Sounds Shockingly Like the Present”. If Salem had won it would have been a darker year.

  3. UnContainuhDrivuh October 21, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    this record is fun in the tanning bed. escape to the future which is only a few minutes ahead. LOVE SLEIGH BELLS. the Sofia Coppola comparison is dead on considering they provided a big part of the soundtrack for the Bling Ring.

  4. Richard October 23, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Interesting. I like that review as a description of Sofia Coppola or Korine and lots of other things but I don’t hear anything like that in that song above (or see anything like it in the video). Maybe if I checked out more of their stuff… but on the strength of that one I don’t really want to. The main reference I hear is a kind of late nineties sports metal thing when the chorus kicks in which is lots of things but definitely not “now”.

  5. Jesse Steinchen October 23, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Scott –

    I’m wondering what you think of the production of Sleigh Bells. It seems rather thin to me, and, dare I say, cheap. Perhaps that is the point. The thing is (and I’m not familiar with some of the references you made) Harmony Korine and Sofia Coppola (and Ke$ha) all have fairly produced works (except, of course, Korine’s Trash Humpers). In order to race alongside contemporary culture, do you need to mimic its production values? Perhaps not? Does this truly sound like Jennifer Lopez in places? To my ears it reminds me of music that is not contemporary, but rather slightly dated, and not reminiscent of older mainstream pop either, like Jennifer Lopez, but rather, I don’t know, like Tracy and the Plastics or Bis or… I can see that certain melody lines and vocal arrangements may seem influenced by contemporary pop, but they aren’t conspicuously different from the music that their production reminds me of, namely early 2000s electro indie pop. Do you disagree? I find it hard to reconcile them with “speaking from inside culture” when they fail to sound contemporary, production-wise, and seem more indebted to a particular style that already occurred, and was never really part of mainstream culture.

  6. Richard October 23, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    I did listen to a couple more of their bits and I think Katie Perry more than J-Lo but I do sort of see what you (Scott) are getting at. I still don’t like it though, but then again I don’t really like Korine and I hate Coppola but I do keep checking their films out because I feel that with their aesthetic they could be on the verge of doing something interesting and he almost managed it with Spring Breakers. I’m not left with a feeling that Sleigh Bells are about to do something interesting though.
    Also, I think I can get pleasure from a film I don’t like that’s interesting but I’m not sure I can from music that does the same thing.

  7. Chester Whelks October 29, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    This is one of those terrifying occasions where a music writer is smarter than the artist, and imbues an undeserving work with far more meaning than it’s worth.

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