“Aren’t you a little too old for rock and roll?” Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells asks at the end of their latest album opener, “SWEET75.” The answer is undoubtedly “no”—Krauss is only 35, after all—but it’s a fair enough question to ask over a decade after the duo burst onto the scene with their scorching debut Treats. On their new record Texis, Krauss and producer/guitarist Derek Miller revive their mile-a-minute noise pop with a carpe diem message that manages not to be trite.
“SWEET75” kicks off with an intense Mortal Kombat beat and magical shivers of synth. Listening to it feels like arriving at a party that’s already in full swing, your overeager friend grabbing your hand and dragging you to the sweaty center of the crowd. The signature chunky Sleigh Bells guitar chugs through, heavy and upbeat. In many ways Texis harkens back to the bombast and sheer euphoria of Treats. Songs can shift from nerve-jangling to sugary within a few moments (“An Acre Lost” and “Tennessee Tips” particularly come to mind).
That’s not to say Sleigh Bells shy away from a bit of experimentation. After an R&B-inflected intro, “Rosary” includes a rare bit of acoustic guitar that, in the wrong hands, could be incredibly cheesy in between the catchy belter of a chorus. It doesn’t exactly stick the landing, but the unusual instrument choice reminds us that Sleigh Bells aren’t afraid to switch things up, even abandoning their beloved buzzing electric guitar. “True Seekers’’ exists in a silvery halo, sounding like something off Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2019 album Dedicated. The expansive pop track reminds us just how versatile Miller is as a producer.
Much like with fellow noise pioneers Girl Band, some fans may not listen to Sleigh Bells for the lyrics, instead waiting to be bowled over by the sheer power of their sound. On Texis, the duo make certain lyrical choices that seem to prioritize the sounds of words over their meaning (“I’m a cavity comedy girl,” Krauss brags on “Justine Go Genesis”). However, a healthy portion of the lyrics focuses on death and our mortality in a way that oddly inspires, rather than deflates.
There’s no shortage of pop songs that go on about “dying young” and “living as if there’s no tomorrow,” with both sentiments usually embracing youthful recklessness. Sleigh Bells pepper in morbid lyrics throughout the album, but they feel more like a reminder of the scarcity and, thus, the preciousness of life. “Everything, everything’s tempting / I’ve got my DNR,” Krauss confesses on “True Seekers.” This could be misconstrued as nihilism, but what Sleigh Bells have in mind is much more life-affirming. Life is short, so you need to use up every moment; the message isn’t a new one, but it’s infectious and fun as hell in Sleigh Bells’ hands. Even their approach to production reflects this credo—no beat should be wasted, each moment instead packed to the gills with sound. “I feel like dynamite / I feel like dying tonight,” Krauss chants on “Locust Laced,” a single that is sure to become a crowd favorite with its videogame synth and inundation of guitar.
In a recent press release, Miller said, “The thing I’m most attracted to is the juxtaposition of happy and sad, melancholy and hope. 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.” That contrast and the resulting desire to live inform Texis from beginning to end. Even when life feels like an unending pit of despair, these moments of pain should spur us to help our fellow human beings, as “I’m Not Down” reminds us: “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.”
Shit’s been scary, sad and disheartening lately, and that’s not going to stop anytime soon. That’s why we need to enjoy every moment we can, including by listening to Sleigh Bells’ heady flashbang of an album.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.