Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sleigh Bells, Treats. Beast & Beauty.

Finally now, & following all manner of buzz & anticipation, Sleigh Bells’ debut album Treats is currently working the room. You likely know the backstory already, but it’s thus: Derek Miller’s hardcore band Poison the Well (nice name, that) went defunct, leaving him stranded waiting tables & chatting up customers re: the new band he was scheming of. One of said customers turned out to be the comely Alexis Krauss, who promptly then ditched her school-teaching gig. More or less directly thereafter, there was Sleigh Bells.

The project was founded, first, on Miller’s loop samples & his noisy beats, mixed strident & loud & then escorted in by raunchy guitar distortion. The latter ingredient performed live & dicey; the former ensconced in a laptop or iPod or whatevs. You with me so far? Derek hits Play, then he thrashes guitar alongside. It’s raucous & crunchy & rude. It’s a fabulous & decadent mess, it’s really fucking loud. So far so good.

Ok, then add Krauss, whose singing is breathy, lively, girlish & gamine. She really ought not to fit Miller’s musical premise, right? Krauss is all winsome, while Miller’s all WHOMP. & yet. On reflection, I’m hearing a yin-slash-yang kind of deal here: the two elements, disparate & incongruous, they accent & emphasize each other. It’s the disparity that’s compelling. & all the more so live, where Krauss (sexy & vivacious) & Miller (hunched & hoodied) perform side by side.

Anyway, Sleigh Bells started out with a half dozen songs, clearly home-made affairs rough & raw, dispersed willy-nilly over the interwebs. The duo scored a gig at last year’s CMJ, then proceeded to garner the right sort of attention. There ensued some hype, albeit virally deployed. More high-profile gigs followed, further stoking the anticipation until voila! we now have in hand an actual Sleigh Bells LP. Dressed up now in big boy pants.

Treats is way fun, let me just say it right off the bat. Every bit of the percussive excess continues unabated, & that’s a very good thing. At the same time, access to a full-on recording studio has been a boon to the Bells: the textural landscape is now more varied, more contoured, more interesting. The earlier recordings had pointed in a number of different musical directions, & Treats continues to offer an assortment of flavors. There are distinct plunges into the Hardcore realm. Somewhat less expected are all the winking references to European disco & electronica. Anyway, it’s a big thrill ride w/hairpin turns.

Most of the earlier material gets reworked here to fit the new, beefier paradigm. By & large, I am prepared to go along w/all of that. Previously, “Ring Ring” was a song that got picked on a lot bc the Funkadelic sample is so unembellished. But jesus chill it’s a fucking demo, is what I wanted to say to all of that. Anyway, that song is much more fully fleshed out now, and appears here as “Rill Rill.” It’s as close to quiet as this album gets, yet thunder still rumbles.

On the other-other hand, “Beach Girls” was already a fully-formed piece w/its seagull atmospherics & its comic narration. That one is transformed here into “Kids,” which operates now as a full-on cover of the original, referring to & commenting on a song we already know. e.g., the singsong-spoken bits re sunburns & sunglasses are accelerated & multitracked now. w/the result that they’re scripted, ritualized, one step removed: a Greek chorus of 9-year-old girls, all giggles & screaming over Thump Thump Thump. Anyway, both versions provided below, the side-by-side being fascinating to me, & maybe so to you too.


SB-Beach Girls mp3

SB-Kids mp3

Summer is upon us, peoples. I anticipate Sleigh Bells as something we’ll be hearing an awful lot of in the hot months ahead.

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