Sleigh Bells have returned with an album which they have promised to be a departure from the music they have released in the past. And while it is clear that they have gone out of their way to create moments of jarring discord within the songs on Jessica Rabbit, the album still comes across like a pastiche of all of the styles popular down at the local mall. There’s some screamo and classic rock guitar, some EDM production, teen pop vocals and millennial whoops, and a touch of gothiness that means these songs would probably work well on the soundtrack for a future Batman flick. But the problem with this is that there’s an over-stuffed quality to the songs that makes them hard to follow, all covered with a plastic sheen that only serves to make them more impenetrable and off-putting. Most of Jessica Rabbit sounds overcooked and conceptually starved, with a meandering approach that makes it fly by with very few moments that stick in the mind.
There is an undeniably disconcerting anxiousness to the music Sleigh Bells have created for Jessica Rabbit that probably comes from the almost total prevalence of harsh and cold sounds. Even the acoustic guitar on ballad “I Know Not to Count on You” sounds digitized and thin, and the synth and drum sounds lack any suppleness or warmth. Because the songs are so structurally chaotic, this means that the album whirs by as a series of rapidly changing clacks, piano notes, discombobulated distorted guitar riffs and monotone cooing. The drama that this sort of detached coldness has the potential to create is derailed by this lack of focus.
Alexis Krauss’ singing is, for the most part, full and digi-perfect. This is, after all, music that was created to compete in the world of pop, and so her voice acts as what is ostensibly the focus of Jessica Rabbit. But just as the music clips by semi-randomly, so too do the melodies of these songs. In fact, without looking at the track listing it can be hard to know when songs are beginning or ending. It all just feels like a barrage of similar but disconnected ideas that ebb and flow over the entire length of the record.
Albums where the artist deliberately attempts to be uncompromising can certainly reward the listener when the artist has a strong vision that they are seeking to follow through. But when they simply cease to obey their intuition at all, it can come across like Jessica Rabbit, a forced and formless collage of musical notions that sound like they might have been arranged into one cohesive, albeit perhaps equally grating, package had they simply allowed something natural to come through.
review by Dan Geddes