Sleigh Bells Jessica Rabbit

[Torn Clean; 2016]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: noise pop, toon-thrash
Others: Robert Zemeckis, Royal Trux, Metallica

As Animal Collective were taking critical pop to new heights with a home-state love letter and Crystal Castles were engendering a new internet-infused microcosm, I was an oddball loser, writing about music on a Wordpress since lost, thankfully, to the memory hole. It was a hopelessly adolescent time.

Yet it was one made lighter by the presence of a release that revealed itself out of the most left of fields. This radical artifact necessarily became a flashpoint for a renewed discourse on inter-generic method and melodic sensibility: it was a pop album that wasn’t, a subverted thrash anthem for self-styled Pussys Like Me [sic]. Treats rocked my world — No Homo, Bro.

Although it was a romance, it was hardly romantic. Treats had all the tenacity and ferocity of a passionate one-night tryst, but the energy imparted felt unsustainable: converted and not created; begotten, not made. And after a dubious, guilty-by-association feature on then labelmate’s MAYA, among other things, it would have made sense for Sleigh Bells to suffer the tragic fate of many BNM alumni and disappear into a commercial irrelevance, the fodder of Streisand-Rogen joint-billing film trailers, or something.

Yet after an election-cycle-long hiatus spent grinding their chops, Sleigh Bells are returned with a self-styled don’t-call-it-a-comeback. Self-produced, Jessica Rabbit provides a retrospective of each punctuated moment in their shared, fractured history: the emblematic opening track “It’s Just Us Now” dabbles in the metal-tinged pop of Reign of Terror — beginning with what could pass as a “Master of Puppets” quote — proffering a Lewis-Jackson-inspired coda straight off of 2013’s Bitter Rivals. Yet the title and lyrics both evoke a loneliness and misanthropy that, to my mind, stand at odds with the enduring memory of any particular heyday.

Jessica Rabbit offers a thoroughly enjoyable, though largely predictable listen. It is a restrained record: a logical follow-up, aware of past excesses, proffering few surprises. “I Can’t Stand You Anymore” — complete with Miller’s dad-rock riffage and Krauss’s full-throated, ginger-fanged vocals — is simply “Crown on the Ground” simulacrum. The latter factor, though, I must say, is as brilliant and as pop-suited as ever, reminiscent of, dare I say, a younger, more relaxed Christina.

For over a half decade, an uncanny unpredictability and ferocious resilience have been Sleigh Bells’s stock and trade, pairing to make brain-exercising, head-banging noise-pop that not only offered an olive branch but, in a communicative way, navigated generic boundaries. Jessica Rabbit does not feel challenging, nor does it feel inviting. The adolescent only hopes to participate.

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