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Sleigh Bells to perform their unapologetically dark record, Kid Kruschev 

click to enlarge Derek Miller, left, and Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Derek Miller, left, and Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells.

After 10 years of collaboration, Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells are still pushing themselves to create incendiary pop music that challenges the way people view the genre. The duo's latest album, Kid Kruschev, is its most politically, emotionally, and sonically forward record to date, and finds Krauss (songwriter and lead vocalist) finding the truest version of herself, musically and otherwise.

Although Krauss has been singing and playing music most of her life, it wasn't until her serendipitous encounter with Miller in 2008 that she found her artistic identity. At the time, she was working as an elementary school teacher in the Bronx, fitting in music whenever she had the chance. Meanwhile, Miller had recently relocated from Florida to New York and was working at a Brooklyn restaurant where he and Krauss first crossed paths. The two got to talking and Miller explained he was looking for a female vocalist to sing on his latest project. One thing led to another, and a few days later the two of them were sitting in a park, listening to Miller's rough mixes and agreeing to work together.

As Krauss puts it, "that's the real story... shit like this actually happens sometimes."

The new partnership allowed Krauss to expand her creative horizons. "A whole new world kind of blows open when you find a collaborator that challenges you and likes your ideas and you feel safe and comfortable working with," says Krauss. "I'd never had that before." Krauss says, at first, she felt more like a session singer than a collaborator when working with Miller. But the more the two worked together, the more they began to push each other artistically.

Krauss says the duo has shared more of the songwriting load with each new album. "Derek is incredible at producing and making beats and writing, and he has his world that he's comfortable in, and I love melody and harmony and producing and arranging vocals," she says. "So, we've sort of found our spaces and have a really comfortable creative process we like to engage in."

Yet again in unison, both artists tested their creative boundaries to new limits on Kid Kruschev. "A big part of my progression has been pushing myself to use my voice in different ways," says Krauss. She notes that Kid Kruschev track "Rainmaker" has a lot of different vocal approaches, "but there's definitely a desperation and cry and unhinged quality about the delivery there that I really like."

Miller, however, shows his growth through his self-reflective vulnerable lyricism. "A lot of his lyric-writing is very therapeutic for him," explains Krauss. "He's gotten more comfortable being honest about hardship — struggles with addiction and with thoughts that can be disturbing." One of the most moving manifestations of dealing with these emotions is found in "And Saints," the album's closing track, where Krauss cries Miller's lyrics, "I swear I'm a shell of a man," over low, glaring synths.

Krauss admits that these darker themes don't always make for the carefree listening associated with pop music, and she's OK with that.

"At the heart of Sleigh Bells, we're a pop band and we want to try and create memorable pop songs," says Krauss. "But we also aren't afraid to do things that are left of center and things that people may find polarizing or abrasive or confusing."

Sleigh Bells will play El Club on Tuesday, Jan. 30; Doors at 8 p.m.; 4114 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-279-7382; elclubdetroit.com; Tickets are $25-$30.

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