Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Album Review: Sleigh Bells' "Treats"

I have a burning, insatiable desire to be up-to-date. I want to read every important news story, listen to every hot band, and watch every great TV show and movie. Basically, I wanna know everything about everything, all the time. Stupid, I know.

Movies and TV shows nicely satisfy my urge simply because I have to take at least forty minutes out of my life to watch them. I can't very well watch ten movies/TV shows at the same time. (Though I did see a particularly dorky roommate use his Game Boy, play Final Fantasy X-2, and watch Star Trek: The Next Generation simultaneously. Said effort entails a sincere aversion to ever having sex with a girl.)

Music, on the other hand, is terrible for my MediaDD (sorry, had to do it). I'm wont to throw "Blogbuzz Hinsdale" (a playlist, named after the National song, of all the stuff I get from music blogs) on random, steer Firefox towards the Hype Machine (where I can download all of the week's most popular tracks), and have another window open to the "Music" folder of my Google Reader account. A long sentence for a long list of crap I try to do at once.

As you can imagine, this ritual puts the emphasis more on collection than appreciation. I gobble up all the music I can, listen to it once or twice, and can nod knowingly when someone cooler than me mentions them in conversation ("Ariel Pink? 'Round and Round' [one of two songs I've heard by them] is solid").

So for a band or song to stop the ol' brain-wheels from spinning, the thing has to be pretty earth-shattering. Not necessarily in sound, though; the xx are as coy can be, but I was stuck on that record for a minute. But I certainly don't mind when a band does sound earth-shattering.

In terms of tectonic metaphors, Sleigh Bells most definitely fit the bill. Colossal, towering, Godzillian: these two Brooklynites evoke every synonym for "big" a blogger can muster.

And a-musterin' they've been. More metaphorical ink has been spilled on Sleigh Bells than just about any other band in recent memory. I'll let Vulture summarize Sleigh Bells' meteoric rise from CMJ breakouts to JoBro tweet fodder, though.

I have the privilege of actually reviewing the fruits of Sleigh Bells' considerable labor, their titanic (read: big) debut album, Treats, which was released yesterday on iTunes. Let the slobbering commence.


Vocalist Alexis Krauss and guitarist/producer/songwriter/GENIUS OF UNPARALLELED STATURE Derek Miller have assembled one of the most exciting records I've heard in a long, long time. And, to make things even better, Krauss got her start in a teen girl group called "Rubyblue" (yup, one word), and Miller is an alumnus of Florida post-hardcore vets Poison the Well. So this sorta came out of nowhere.

Treats is an album full of comfortable chaos. Metalcore guitars sidle up with boom bap percussion, pristine editing sits right alongside mastering that couldn't give two fucks about fidelity, and nobody gets hurt. Except, thankfully, for our ears.

"Treats" evinces this kind of duality nicely, as waves of minor key guitar fuzz crash into massive crunk synths. You're watching the best backing band Lil' Jon could ask for, until Miller decides to get all Springsteen up in this bitch and throw in the glockenspiel.

Sleigh Bells traffic in musical double entendres like this. Is "Infinity Guitars" a metal song or garage rock? Are the chattering kids on "Kids" a nod to the children's choirs of hip-hop or Are we grown-ups or what? I know I'm supposed to be the former, but most of this record makes me jump for joy like a fourth grader on Pixy Stix.

The band's probably going for childlike glee, after all; they seem intent on pulling things out of our collective past and then feeding them through a blender to make something gloriously cacophonous. On the cover, we see a washed-out photo of high school cheerleaders with the faces poked out. Something old, something broken.

Most of all, this record just feels big and brassy and beautiful. From the Tommy Gun sermon of "Tell 'Em" to the Motörhead-on-adderall stomp of "Straight A's", there are few moments of restraint to be found on Treats. But when moments of respite do come (the Funkadelic-sampling "Rill Rill"), you'll welcome them with open arms.

The record ends higher than where it began with "Crown on the Ground" and "Treats," the latter of which practically serves as a denouement after the apocalyptic celebration of "Crown."

And really, what is there left to say about the song that hasn't already been said? "Crown on the Ground" is baptism by noise, a righteous tent revival in a hailstorm. It's a movement.

Sometimes music is so transcendently good that it fools you for a moment into thinking that maybe it can make everything okay. That shrinks could throw away their prescription pads and hand out copies of Songs in the Key of Life. That Israel and Palestine would stop fighting if we just played "Redemption Song" loud enough. That the whole damn planet could really unite under one groove.

With Treats, Sleigh Bells have earned the right to soundtrack the worldwide dance party.

(photo appears courtesy of