by Richard Hart
Sleigh Bells are a band of fierce contrasts; of crashing guitar and dream like vocals and with their new album they take another step forward on the road to becoming a truly important act. The Brooklyn based band arrived in 2009 after a chance meeting and their music featured in adverts for the Xbox360 and some frankly crumby movies.
Sleigh Bells comprise Alexis Krause, formerly of teenpop band “Rubyblue” and Derek Miller of “Poison the Well”. This seemingly incoherent concoction of musicians have, in just three years, constructed an exciting and unique sound with their blend of riffing guitar, floating vocals and dance-beats. Sleigh Bells have matured with their second album too, the vocals come forward and the sound becomes stronger and more focused.
The album retains the shimmering tone of their first outing, “Treats”, but is less discordant. In fact some fans may feel that they have honed their sound a bit too much but I think this will prove to be a minority. At times Treats was a hard listen with “A/B Machines” striking the ear-drum like a shoe thrown across a dancehall floor.
The lyrics are darker this time too. The fact that they are discernable at all is a huge change from “Treats” where Alexis Krause’s gauzy vocals were often just another instrument to be played by Derek Miller. In “Rill-Rill” Krause had sung about boyfriends, braces and the Summer and in the epic “Kids” she had sung a string of apparent non-sequitors about life on a beach. These days are gone in “Reign of Terror”.
Here the two-some have found more equilibrium and Krause even has a couple of song-writing credits this time around. But despite her darker lyrics, the songs still retain that vague, shiny tone where Alexis sings like a teenager, full of angst but also full of hope and innate happiness. Sleigh Bells are at heart a very positive band, even if their songs take an increasingly menacing tone in their second album.
This makes a great contrast to the punk-inspired guitar and synth from Derek Miller. The trademark noise pop sound is still here but with the refinement, it’s easier to get into and despite a heavier tone, I think that “Reign of Terror” will prove to be more accessible than “Treats”.
The opening track “True Shred Guitar” does what it says on the tin, featuring a massive guitar riff from Miller and Krause’s rallying cry delivered in a live arena. The song is dark, swaggering and opens the album in a fine style. It also features a rare moment of backing vocals to Krause.
“Born to Lose” is in a similar, dark vein with punchy guitar and synth weaved around the doom-laden lyrics about being a lost soul. Here Krause sings, without malice in her words, “where do you go? You can’t choose, you were born to lose”.
The album changes gears slightly with the wistful and bleak “Crush” which evokes the big rock sound of the eighties but with a definite punk lilt. The lyrics are edgy and skirt a line between attraction and hatred that is common to adolescent crushes.
“End of the Line” is more upbeat in its lyrics but retains a thread of threat with a shimmering beat in the background which Krause’s breathy lyrics skip around. In this song her lyrics are much more like those in “Treats” and the sound here is almost so light it floats away but the edgy tone just about holds the song together.
Next up is the swaggering “Leader of the Pack” which is built around a swinging drum beat and contrasts to a sweeter than light beat in the foreground. Again there is no explicit darkness to the song but an edge to the tone that is made all the more evocative by the almost sickly sweet tone of Krause’s lyrics.
In the centre of the album is Sleigh Bells most accessible song to date, the shiny and zany pop hit “Comeback Kid” which is the most upbeat song on the album. Infectious, fast and hugely entertaining, I had initially disliked the song but the ironic and bizarre video hides a fun, if light, song which is sure to go through a few club remixes.
Contrasting is the drifting, epic “Road To Hell” where Sleigh Bells evoke some of the eighties hair metal acts whilst Alexis Krause croons in a dreamy fashion that recalls her efforts in the first album. But it also serves to show how far she’s come as a vocalist alongside Miller’s instrumental work; the two now stand as equals.
But the stand out track for me is the heaviest song on the album, the gloomy punk inspired “Demon” which has a huge staccato beat in the background while Alexis chants out a series of increasingly dark statements. It’s Sleigh Bells in a microcosm; a stiletto blade in a velvet (most likely fingerless) glove.
Sleigh Bells are darlings of the hipster scene and are from the hipster capitol of the world; Brooklyn. At times they lose their way a little bit (much as in Treats) towards the end but the album is a fierce and driving follow up to their first album.
All in all Sleigh Bells appear to be here to stay on the music scene, inhabiting a strange spot between pop stardom and supercool indie elitism. Krause and Miller are both fashionistas; Krause is already infamous for her bleeding edge dress sense and her energetic stage presence when they tour. I’m going to see Sleigh Bells in March and I can hardly wait to be part of her admiring crowd!
But at the heart of the band remains Derek Miller who still shoulders most of the responsibility for writing and production within the band. While Krause whips an audience into a frenzy, Miller makes sure they have something to get frenzied about.
Miller is the heart of the band, perhaps Krause is the soul as well as the face. But together they have become an exciting duo who will hopefully continue to mutate, mature and inspire.