Derek Miller (guitar/production) and Alexis Krauss (vocals) make up Brooklyn noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells. Not only do they make music your mum used to warn you about – “it’s just noise” is actually completely accurate – but they’re also signed to M.I.A‘s N.E.E.T label and Miller helped out on his bosses brand new album. Not bad for a band who only got together after Krauss – who had just left a crappy girl band – and Miller were forced into making music together by Krauss’ mother.
Their debut album, Treats, has just been released in America, so we flew out there to give it a listen (ahem). Given the fact that the album is mainly a bit of a racket, we’ve decided to use tennis players to rate each track (tennis players use rackets, GEDDIT?). The ratings go something like this;
Roger Federer = AMAZING
Rafael Nadal = GREAT, BUT SUFFERS WITH DODGY KNEES
Andy Murray = GOOD, WITH FLASHES OF BRILLIANCE BUT A BIT SURLY
Andy Roddick = CONSTANTLY UNDERWHELMING
Let’s do this
1. ‘Tell ‘Em’ – Much of Treats is based around distorted beats and ridiculously loud two-note guitar riffs. ‘Tell ‘Em’ is one of the better examples of this, with Krauss adding a strangely catchy vocal hook over the top of the cacophony that threatens to swamp her at any given moment.
2. ‘Kids’ – This one actually features some sleigh bells, which is nice. Then the ‘nice’ gets swallowed by those distorted guitars and popping beat, but once again Krauss manages to add a sweetly melodic hook that makes it seem unsettling. But, like, in a good way.
3. ‘Riot Rhythm’ – The guitars that have plagued the first couple of tracks frankly get a bit annoying on this one. You can’t shake the feeling this would sound better without them, especially as the live (?) drums and processed handclaps carry the song well enough anyways.
4. ‘Infinity Guitars’ – An early demo version of this track got everyone very excited a few months ago and luckily they’ve not done too much to change it. It kind of reminds us of Bumblebeez in the way it sounds like a very catchy pop single recorded in a skip full of rusty old bikes.
5. ‘Run The Heart’ – Ah, some relative calm here. There’s even some pretty synth moments and the whole thing has the whiff of Crystal Castles. Krauss’ vocals are minimal and barely audible for the most part, but the whole thing offers some light relief from all the speaker-busting beats and squiggles.
6. ‘Rachel’ – Starts with some heavy breathing before a stuttering beat comes in and Krauss is off, sounding like a girl group member gone wrong. It’s pleasant enough, but doesn’t really go anywhere.
7. ‘Rill Rill’ – This used to be called ‘Ring Ring’ and has been beefed up slightly, the extra production adding a bit more clarity to one of the best (and most musical) songs on the album. Over a lovely sample of an old Funkadelic track, Krauss’ vocals are crisp and clear and midway through there’s a lovely middle eight that makes you swoon.
8. ‘Crown On The Ground’ – After the relative calm, the aural storm. This was the track that got the bloggers erect and it’s a brilliant, clattering monster of distorted guitar and thunderous beats that teeters on the edge of a breakdown but is deliriously catchy.
9. ‘Straight A’s’ – We warn you against listening to this track on tinny laptop speakers because chances are you’ll think your head’s about to explode. At just ninety seconds long and as loud as a bomb, this is a fairly unwelcome interlude.
10. ‘A/B Machines’ – More punishing guitars and erupting beats but at least this time we have Krauss’ voice back to deliver a hushed chorus about machines on the table and in the draw. Lord only knows what it’s all about, but it sounds pretty bangin’.
11. ‘Treats’ – This is a slightly disappointing end and proof that when the duo fail to find a melody their songs descend into an almighty mess.
VERDICT: We’re assuming that title is ironic because though the album has some brilliant moments, listening to it form start to finish isn’t what we would call a treat. There’s also the suspicion that much of it would get boring after a while, in the same way that listening to a distorted drill might get boring. But on tracks like ‘Crown On The Ground’, ‘Rill Rill’ and ‘Tell ‘Em’, they hit upon some weird formula where everything sounds just right.