Somebody’s wreaking havoc in a tin shed – hammering metal, buzzsaws whirring wildly, nuts and bolts flying in all directions. Who is it? Vocalist Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller. What are they building? Why, it’s got to be Sleigh Bells’ sixth album, ‘Texis’.
The New York duo’s new record exists entirely in its own boisterous universe. Discarding fears of being formulaic, Krauss and Miller were determined their first album in five years would arrive under carefree, uninhibited conditions. Following their natural strengths and instincts produced ‘Texis’, an album buoyed by sincere joy for the music, that holds stagnancy at bay.
Across their previous five albums, Sleigh Bells paced the perimeters of noise pop, wielding synth, hip-hop, crashing guitar, and eighties-pop-heroine vocals. 2010 debut ‘Treats’ had already sealed their defining sound: an immaculately-presented contrast between spirited sweetness and a blistering din. The record simultaneously captured the feeling of late noughties city life, the same way the ‘Drive’ soundtrack did, and cut through the mewls of Brooklyn’s reigning hipsters.
And on ‘Texis’, you can still picture Ryan Gosling strolling pristinely through the chaos, just like Krauss’ sugared vocals soar through lacerating, skin-scraping guitar. The new album hits like a cold brew on an empty stomach. Right from the off there are no wasted seconds nor subdued beats: opener ‘SWEET75’ offers a barrage of thudding, satisfying guitar, daring you to keep up, as Krauss coyly asks, “aren’t you a little too old for rock and roll?”
The production concentrates on one task – to shake your bones with noise – but it does that task well, and with a sense of fun. Alongside obnoxious riffs and shimmering synth, there are eighties europop refrains, gloriously happy major chords, and on ‘Rosary’, inexplicably, an acoustic guitar, which shows up like a rogue dinner party gate-crasher who ends up charming all of the guests.
Highly onomatopoeic titles hint at the sound of the songs: ‘Locust Laced’, ‘Hummingbird Bomb’, ‘Red Flag Flies’, the latter a warning klaxon, as if Bowser is about to descend any second for a showdown. The lyrics often match this mood, too, built of urgent, repeated lines, like “I feel like dynamite, I feel like dying tonight,” or “Some inside get burned alive, some inside get out alive”. But there are also sentimental moments hidden among the guitars, from the entirety of pop jingle ‘True Seeker’ to the heartfelt coda of ‘Knowing’, where Krauss admits, “I love you and the time, time / We spend together is precious (Going, going, gone)”.
‘I’m Not Down’ contains perhaps the most wholesome moment of emotion – “Nobody cares when a line gets crossed / Nobody cares when a life gets lost / And lives do get lost / We gotta look out for each other” – part of the relentless optimism and love for life that’s always fuelled Sleigh Bells’ music. “The thing I’m most attracted to is the juxtaposition of happy and sad, melancholy and hope,” Miller said in a press release. “A lot of this is about trying to hold on to a shred of optimism through sheer force of will, and I hope this music can give people some joyful energy and confidence.”
‘Texis’ may be an unrelenting whirlwind of a noise-pop record, built only for a specific mood and moment – when you want to be completed uprooted from everyday existence – but by conveying a genuine joy for being alive, its bigger achievement is to make that everyday existence bearable.
If you like really loud guitar, that is.