What’s the loudest bass you’ve ever heard? Are you the sort of person who enjoys buying a highly expensive subwoofer and cranking the volume up as loud as possible in either the car or at home? Is the noise loud enough to make the entire neighborhood shake? You might think that those sorts of albums are almost exclusively hip hop specific, with “those damn kids and their rap records”, but that’d be before you met the duo of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss, otherwise known as Sleigh Bells. They caught the attention of critics and music fans everywhere last year thanks to their wild live show and an EP of demos that spread around the internet like wildfire. Their unique sound, combining Miller’s intensely loud guitars and Krauss’s calm and collected vocals, felt familiar even though most people have struggled to accurately define it. “Noise pop” is the tag most frequently affixed to Sleigh Bells’ music, and given that it’ll split your eardrums while bouncing around in your head for days, that’s not too far from correct. Now with debut album “Treats” released digitally last week (June 1st physically) on M.I.A.’s label N.E.E.T. Recordings, the duo truly seems ready for their close-up. The question is are we?
If you heard the Sleigh Bells demo EP last year, no matter whether you may have loved it or hated it, those tracks reappear on “Treats” in re-recorded form. The good news is that these new versions are still louder than you could imagine, they just sound a little clearer and better mixed. It also makes for some great highlights across the record, as songs like “A/B Machines” and “Crown on the Ground” are more compelling than ever. The bad news comes only in the form of lyrical content, because those looking for deeper meaning in the words of these songs will be left high and dry. Assuming that Krauss does all the lyrics, there are very few actual verses and many times songs will only feature a phrase or two repeated over and over ad nauseum. The great benefit of this is that they get stuck in your head that much easier. The thing about those words though is that their main purpose is to act as a supplement to all the insanity taking place across the rest of the track. These are beats and guitar parts probably best designed for somebody to rap on top of, and given that Krauss is smartly not feigning to have any sort of rhyming skills allows yout to accept her lack of lyrical meanings and variations with little to no thought. Besides that, the main intention of this album is to have a whole lot of fun with few consequences (except for maybe hearing damage), so Sleigh Bells hit it out of the park in that respect.
Assuming you’re okay with excessively loud rock music with a sharp, beat-driven edge to it, “Treats” is exactly what its title describes. Miller and Krauss are unique crafters of a record that’s both ambitious and a blast to listen to, if that’s your sort of thing. Divisive is one of the best words to describe how people are going to react to this album, because for all the interesting compositions and fun it might otherwise bring, there will be plenty who won’t understand or just generally won’t like all the noise. The real question now is where Sleigh Bells will go from here. Sustaining the same sandblasting sound for 30 minutes of excellence is one thing, but to pull it off for multiple records might get a little tedious. It also begs the question of how long “Treats” might remain in the good graces of its fans before they move onto something else and forget all about it. This isn’t a life-changing record, but it is a highly enjoyable one for the moment. Their popularity might only wind up a momentary blip on the music radar, but for the moment it feels like a crater filled with noise, announcing that a loud, brash rock and roll record can still wholly satisfy if done right.
Stream the entire album at NPR