How did this pass me by? This album came out back in May but obviously slipped completely under my radar, I knew nothing about it until I was checking out the 2010 shortlist on the405 website (here). What a noisy little bugger it is as well, more than once on the first listen I thought my speakers were damaged until I realised the distortion is intended!
Sleigh Bells are a Brooklyn based electronic noise-pop duo consisting of Derek E. Miller (of hardcore band Poison The Well) and Alexis Krauss (originally a member of a teen pop girl-group called Rubyblue), the story goes that Miller was waiting tables and mentioned to Alexis and her mother that he was looking for a female vocalist for a new musical project and Mrs. Krauss immediately volunteered her daughter.
They make a noise that has elements of M.I.A. (they are in fact signed to her label), Crystal Castles, and The Go! Team, Krauss’s sweet vocals almost getting lost against Miller’s acerbic, dirty beats, fuzzing and glitching. The sound is mastered so high it sounds as if your speakers are about to blow out in a shower of cardboard, I think if a track from this pops up on your iPod on shuffle it could cause minor heart palpitations.. and tinitus!
The first few tracks stick to the similar formula of first track and lead single “Tell ‘Em” and although the album is only 32 minutes long this could get old quite quickly, however they change tack with fourth track “Infinity Guitars”, Miller’s crunchy riffs lending a real rockier feel to proceedings. It feels the track is leading to something and I got the distinct impression that this track was suspiciously quiet after the preceding three , and then at 1:50 all hell breaks loose for the final 40 seconds of the track, massive beats and riffs explode along with the inevitable grin on the listener’s face!
The pace is reined in a little on the deceptively simple “Rachel”, consisting of vocals, tambourine (or sleigh bells I guess!) and synth. Krauss’s vocals have a laid back, dreamy feel on this track, reminding me of Miki Berenyi of 90s dream-pop shoegazers Lush, apart from, of course, the fuzzy synth that drives the track along.
Next track “Rill Rill” is where the Go! Team comparisons really come in, layered vocals, jangly guitars and the distortion and beats turned right down, although you can sense them at the periphery waiting to come back to taunt your ears again!
“Crown on the Ground” brings them back with a vengeance, you almost can’t hear the vocals due the heavy distortion, this pace doesn’t let up for the final ten minutes of the album, “Straight A’s” unleashes massive riffs, shouted vocals and feedback for it’s sprightly one and a half minutes sounding like a fight between Crystal Castles and Atari Teenage Riot! “A/B Machines” trots along with the repetitive mantra “Got my A machines on the table/Got my B machines in the drawer” backed by a jangle of surf guitar. Title track “Treats” closes the album, starting with a trembling guitar note that sounds very similar to the start of The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now”, until the, by now, familiar filthy beats reveal themselves! The tracks stops abruptly, a fitting end to what has been an almost cathartic experience!
After all this, my one reservation with this album is its longevity, at the moment it is still fresh and new to these ears and I keep wanting to put it on again and again, but I’m not sure what they would do on a follow up album, or even if this one will still retain its appeal in six month’s time.
Aside from this, this album, along with “Hidden” by These New Puritans, is the most fresh and different sounding album I have heard this year. But, unlike “Hidden”, which I still don’t think I’ve fully got my head around, this is quick and easy to digest. I do believe this is a bit of a “Marmite” album though, you’ll either love it or hate it. I love it and it has managed to slip its way quite highly into my end of year top fifty. Just how high you’ll have to wait until next week to see!