Labelmates the Jezabels and Sleigh Bells (and Hell’s Bells and…) are loud and proud, but what gives Sleigh Bells the edge is their playfulness. Bands like the Jezabels—doubtlessly influenced by indie’s more self-indulgent and grandiose side—are so serious it’s often hard to decipher what it is they mean. Assuming of course, they mean anything. I’ve had that problem for years with Radiohead, whose impenetrable lyrics are overcome time and time again by their gorgeous instrumentation (or computer looping, whatever). I’ve resigned to thinking Thom Yorke just doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. If In Rainbows isn’t a love album, I don’t want to know what it is. And if he thinks The King of Limbs is so damn obvious, why doesn’t he just tell us already? No such problem with Sleigh Bells. I won’t say Krauss is a poet, but at least you know what she’s talking about. Whether it’s worth saying is something else entirely. And did I mention both Alexis Krauss and Hayley Mary are gorgeous? There it is.
THE JEZABELS – Prisoner (Mom+Pop): Were it not for frontwoman Hayley Mary’s confident over-exuberance and ex-metal drummer Sam Lockwood’s propulsive rhythms, this album’s conceptual failures would be too big to overlook. Not that their combined efforts hold it together, as there are plenty of hokey moments—the liner notes begin as a letter addressed simply to ‘Prisoner,’ for Christ’s sake. It’s that both distract well enough from the album’s most bothering aspect: the preciously overwrought lyrics. Try as I might, I’m incapable of dismissing Prisoner based on that and constantly find myself stomping my foot and humming if not singing along. On almost every single track. With pounding bass drums, atmospheric guitar washes and piano/organ overlays out the whazoo, the opening track alone perfectly articulates the virtues and caveats of the Aussies’ self-described “intensindie”: a cacophony of Arcade Fire thunder-theatrics without the lyrical weight to match. But if Mary’s crooning on the hurtling “Long Highway” doesn’t perfectly encapsulate the free, open feeling of a mid-afternoon cruise, I don’t know what does. A MINUS
SLEIGH BELLS – Reign of Terror (Columbia/Mom+Pop): I love Alexis Krauss’s ability to address death so subtly, so fun-lovingly and non-nihilistically, though not quite as much as I enjoy Derek Miller’s wrecking guitar riffs, Krauss’s sexy soprano whisper, or their collective blistering rhythms. She cuts heaviness (both of lyric and beat) with immediate rephrasing. My favorite track, “End of the Line,” features a chorus of Hamlet-ian crises: “You know it didn’t have to be this way/You know it didn’t have to be.” Or how they follow their mantra “Never Say Die” with “D.O.A.” Same thing when she falters on professing affection and instead opts for domination: “I’ve got a crush on/I’ve got to crush you now” she sweetly sings. Bonus: The longest cut, “You Lost Me,” is arguably the most gorgeous. A MINUS
CATE LE BON – Cyrk (The Control Group): Nico-freak sans Velvet Underground-sound (or smarts) produces what you’d expect: four good songs and a lot of slow, sappy pap. (“Puts Me to Work,” “Ploughing Out, Part 1”) **
CHAIRLIFT – “Sidewalk Safari,” “Wrong Opinion,” “I Belong In Your Arms” (Something, Columbia)