Due to the band’s penchant for brevity and simple, vibrant phrases, listening to Sleigh Bells has always felt kind of like snacking on candy.
The Brooklyn noise pop duo’s albums never run longer than 45 minutes; its songs rarely hit the 4-minute mark. Still, it’s new record Kid Kruschev, seems surprisingly concise even as an EP. By no means does quantity equal quantity, however Kid Kruschev is more than just short and sweet—it’s short and explosive, and perhaps Sleigh Bells’ most cohesive release to date.
Kid Kruschev is not your run-of-the-mill album title. As those familiar with Cold War history might suspect, it’s a reference to Nikita Khrushchev, who was once the premier of the Soviet Union. This political charge makes sense when you consider that the two members of Sleigh Bells were writing this album while keeping an eye on the vicissitudes of life in Trump-era America. In a recent interview with Paste Magazine, vocalist Alexis Krauss said that she and guitarist Derek Miller “are both very disgusted by Trump and his administration… So that was definitely coloring the lyric writing.” While this doesn’t mean that Kid Kruschev is the next American Idiot, it does mean that there’s a notable undercurrent of frustration and dissatisfaction in the lyrics. This is evident from the start of “Blue Trash Mattress Fire,” the first track and one of the album’s highlights. The song starts sparsely, with only electronic instrumentals and muted, distant vocals; then the sound of Miller’s guitar kicks in, leading up to a deliciously aggressive crescendo. Krauss’s voice matches the ferocity of Miller’s playing as she sings lyrics like “Enough is enough,” “Evidence of moral detours,” and “Hysterical depths of casual hatred,” showing that Sleigh Bells refuses to lose its energy in the face of tragedy.
Alongside the EP’s more general lyrics about unrest are plenty of lyrics that explore personal problems. For example, “Favorite Transgressions,” which is easily the catchiest track on the album, is about looking back on one’s romantic mistakes. Distinguished by a buoyant guitar riff, pounding percussion, and Krauss’s confident vocals, it almost sounds like a Little Mix song—but upon closer inspection, it’s darker than you might assume. Phrases like “My past is littered with the bones of men who/Were fools enough to sleep on me” and “I need something that resembles a defense” reveal something slightly sinister lurking behind the fun and games, making the track all the more interesting. Similarly glossy in terms of production, but more morose is “Panic Drills,” which begins with the sudden mention of a father’s death (“F—ked me up when my dad died”) and features the repeated lyric “At the end of the war/What’s mine is yours.”
Although the beginning of the album is largely upbeat-sounding, the later tracks on Kid Kruschev are decidedly more subtle. “Florida Thunderstorm” is the biggest departure from the other tracks’ sound, starting with the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar and even incorporating the chirping of crickets. It’s an odd little track—not the kind of song that jumps to mind when you think of Sleigh Bells—but still endearing. Last, but not least is “And Saints.” It’s rather minimalistic, built upon repeated melodies and very simple instrumentation, but that’s a wonderful thing—it imbues the song with an eerie glow, bringing Kid Kruschev to an end in a way that’s unexpected, but feels just right.
All in all, Kid Kruschev isn’t an EP you should pass up. It may be shorter than your average cartoon episode, but you’ll want to play its tracks for quite some time, in both moments of triumph and aggravation.