Review : Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror
PrettymuchamazingIt’s a familiar story. A celebrity captures the attention of millions by living life at an unsustainable pace, a train wreck in slow motion that we just can’t look away from. We mourn in retrospect, but in the moment we’re transfixed. We are, after all, an extremes-obsessed culture. The train tracks laid by Sleigh Bells’ debut album, Treats, leads to just that kind of fireball. The record is as dense as it is insistent – thirty-two minutes of power that rarely relents. It’s a ferocious piece of popular music, but it’s also an album that begs the question, as the band prepares to release its second full-length, how do you catch thunder in a bottle twice?
For Sleigh Bells, the answer is to include some lightning. Rather than following Treats with another set of ear-shattering tunes, the duo has diversified for Reign of Terror, slowing things down, expanding their sound, and producing a record that makes up for a little bit of power loss by lighting a whole bunch of candles. It’s a compromise, for sure – and one that will likely leave some blood-thirsty listeners wanting harder guitars and more volume – but it’s a compromise the band was likely more than willing to make. Sleigh Bells is no longer on a trajectory for burnout.
Reign of Terror opens with the noise of an adoring crowd, met by Alexis Krauss’s jubilant battle cry, “New Orleans! What the f*ck’s up? There we go – there we f*cking go!” The air fills with the cheers, stomps, and icy guitars that will come to define this album, and Krauss counts it off for the record to start in earnest. The track is, as guitarist Derek Miller puts it, ““a brass, arrogant, tasteless way to start a record.” It’s also a spine-tingling way to build anticipation for the tracks about to follow. More than anything, though it’s a portrait that falls in stark contrast to the band that handed a demo to a neighbor in late 2009, and a sign of how far these two have really come. Since we last met them, Sleigh Bells got big....full text
Popmatters“Born to Lose” and “Comeback Kid” were the first songs leaked from Sleigh Bells’ second album Reign of Terror, but could there be two more misleading titles to describe a band that has experienced nothing short of a stratospheric ascent in terms of acclaim and fame? Instead, Sleigh Bells’ career trajectory begs the obvious question of whether they can continue to top themselves in pushing their brash, trashy artistry forward. Besting their debut Treats would be a tall task, considering how Sleigh Bells’ initial effort was so complete and fully fledged that you’d be hard pressed to think that they had any more room to grow. To put it another way, Treats was such an over-the-top experience that it seems impossible for Sleigh Bells’ aesthetic to become any more intense and bold than it was the first time around.
With Reign of Terror, Sleigh Bells seem to have come up with the best answer as to how to proceed, which is to not try to one-up Treats either in audaciousness or sheer volume. Although Reign sounds like it couldn’t have been made by anyone except Sleigh Bells, there’s something of a shift from the rockist approach of Treats to the pop dimensions that vied for attention on some of that album’s best, most inventive tracks. It’s telling, then, that the closest thing here to what’s on the earlier effort—the opener “True Shred Guitar”—is the most unconvincing and least developed number on Reign, coming off like a parody of what Sleigh Bells did on Treats, what with the raucous background crowd noise making Derek Miller’s guitar-hero theatrics and Alexis Krauss’ bantering chants of “Push it!” and “On your knees” feel canned, even farcical. In the end, though, “True Shred Guitar” is just a false start and an act of misdirection, as the duo moves from being a metal band playing dance music to a more well-rounded noise-pop act that’s willing to go with its more melodic impulses....full text
PitchforkSleigh Bells arrived fully formed with blunt rock riffs, crunk beats, and airy, feminine vocals. Their debut, Treats, may be the first record to fetishize the negative consequences of the Loudness War, with guitarist and producer Derek E. Miller pushing an already bombastic sound to absurd extremes by deliberately narrowing the music's dynamic range to the point of clipping even at moderate volumes. Treats owes its greatness to its simple, direct hooks, but the band's overly hot recordings were also thrilling in that they tapped into our positive associations with cranking stereos up to the maximum volume because we loved what we were hearing.
Sleigh Bells' second album, Reign of Terror, is plenty loud, but it doesn't rely on this volume trick. Instead, the duo emphasizes the delicate elements of their sound that mostly got crowded out in the midrange of Treats' speaker-melting din. Alexis Krauss, the former teen-pop singer turned punk-rock badass, is foregrounded throughout the record, and her roots in Clinton-era bubblegum are more fully integrated with Miller's heavy riffing. The beats are less indebted to hip-hop this time around and the guitar parts have gone full-on metal, alternating between elemental AC/DC-like hooks and late-80s harmonics.
Reign of Terror is a brash, hyperactive set of songs, but Miller and Krauss' synthesis of disparate strands is exceptionally graceful, with traditionally macho and girly sounds flowing together seamlessly in dynamic, often ecstatic pop tunes. They refine their take on girl-group pop and cheerleader chants on "Leader of the Pack" and "Crush", and set shoegazer swooning to machine-gun drum fills on "Born to Lose". More impressively, Krauss' melodies somersault over Miller's waves of alt-rock buzz guitar and colorful keyboards on "Comeback Kid", and they fully commit to the gentle, sentimental melodies of "End of the Line" without compromising their noisy aesthetic. "You Lost Me", one of three consecutive songs that lean hard on metal harmonics at the end of the set, is straight-up gorgeous, with layers of clean notes, slow-motion drones, and breathy coos building to a headbanging catharsis....full text
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