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Sleigh Bells

The experimental pop project of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss, Sleigh Bells combine sugary hooks with a loud, rhythmic crunch. Just how they juxtaposed these elements changed with almost every album. On 2011's acclaimed debut album Treats, they pitted hip-hop beats against punk riffs and Krauss' pure pop vocals; on 2012's Reign of Terror, they paired R&B and hair metal. By the time of 2016's Jessica Rabbit, Sleigh Bells were capable of moments of vulnerability that hit just as hard as their outbursts. The duo rang in the 2020s with 2021's Texis, an album that reaffirmed their status as innovators who foreshadowed the rise of hyperpop, Grimes, Poppy, and other artists who brazenly ignored genre boundaries and united the extremes of sweet and heavy. Sleigh Bells formed in 2008 in New York, where Miller (a Florida native and onetime member of hardcore act Poison the Well) had relocated in the hopes of starting a new group. He found his ideal partner in Krauss, a former vocalist for Rubyblue who studied political science and taught elementary school Spanish after the group disbanded. The pair met at a Brazilian bistro where Miller was working and Krauss and her mother were patrons; when Miller mentioned he was searching for a female vocalist to work with, Krauss' mother volunteered her. The duo created a batch of demos and self-released the Sleigh Bells EP in 2009, which soon earned strong reviews from blogs as well as more traditional publications. Late that year, Miller collaborated with M.I.A. on songs that appeared on her album Maya. Sleigh Bells signed to her boutique label NEET, as well as Mom + Pop Music, in early 2010. That May, the duo's debut album Treats appeared, and its genre-defying blend of pop, hip-hop, hard rock, and more made it one of the year's most acclaimed albums. Sleigh Bells spent much of 2011 touring but found time to record, with Miller writing songs inspired by by the loss of his father and playing a particularly metallic-sounding Jackson USA Soloist. Arriving in February 2021, Reign of Terror also included more songwriting contributions from Krauss as well as more traditional pop song structures. The album peaked at number 12 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, and Sleigh Bells supported the album with more heavy touring, including a string of Florida dates with Diplo and Liturgy and gigs with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Refused, and Class Actress. The duo started writing song for album three soon after Reign of Terror 's release. Working with a creative team that featured producer/engineer Shane Stoneback, Miller and Krauss drew inspiration from Janet Jackson and Beyoncé as well as nu-metal for October 2013's Bitter Rivals, which reached number nine on Billboard's Independent Albums chart in the U.S. and number 36 on the U.K. Indie Albums Chart. After two years of relative quiet, Sleigh Bells returned in 2015 with "Champions of Unrestricted Beauty," a teaser for their fourth album that displayed a more straightforward pop sound than some of their previous music. In 2016, the duo sued Demi Lovato, her producers, and UMG Recordings for allegedly sampling the Treats songs "Infinity Guitars" and "Riot Rhythm" without permission on the 2015 track "Stars" (the lawsuit was settled in 2017). That November saw the release of their fourth album, Jessica Rabbit, which featured collaborations with Stoneback and Dr. Dre producer Mike Elizondo. Released by Sleigh Bells' own label Torn Clean, Jessica Rabbit hit number eight on Billboard's Top Alternative Albums chart in the States and number 35 on the U.K. Independent Albums chart. A year later, Sleigh Bells issued the mini-album Kid Kruschev, which was sparked by Krauss' move to upstate New York as well as the turbulent political climate of the late 2010s. In 2018, the duo contributed a cover of Lead Belly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" to the soundtrack to the film The Rhythm Section and started work on album number five. Arriving in September 2021 on Mom + Pop, Texis balanced the more sophisticated songwriting of Jessica Rabbit and Kid Kruschev with the explosiveness of Sleigh Bells' early days.
© Heather Phares & Andrew Leahey /TiVo


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