Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Music Review: Sleigh Bells—Treats

I’m terrible at describing new bands using “mash-up” categories; it’s always been a skill I’m incredibly envious of in others.  

Music Critic: “You have to check these guys out:  They’re like a cross between The Cranberries and Van Halen circa For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.”  
Me:  “That’s amazing, how do you think of those…wait, what?” 

You have to admit, that’s the strangest description of Paramore you’ve ever heard.  But if you can nail it down, I think such descriptions of a band’s sound can be both enlightening and highly complimentary. 

So it’s with great pride that I offer you my first (I think) successful mash-descriptor of a band:  Sleigh Bells come off as an ear-shredding cross between Justice and The Ting Tings.  This may also be the first album in (or at least adjacent to) the electronic genre to sound like it was recorded in a garage.  Speaking as one of those elitists or clowns (depending on your own level of musical elitism) who claims to “like all kinds of music”, I will readily admit that the only music genre I’m more picky about than techno and electronic is country.  The worst of techno seems to be “composed” solely for 20-somethings blown out on ecstasy laying on a couch at a rave in some warehouse with baby pacifiers hanging limply out of their mouths, and even some of the best artists often feel the need to grind out seven minute opuses (opi?) utilizing a beat you’ve had more than enough of by about the 2:30 mark.  Sleigh Bells represent something new and phenomenally different—there’s a looseness to everything that makes it seem like they just went with the first take on every track.  It’s an effect that isn’t in the least displeasing to listen to, and lends a musical authenticity in a genre where tracks often feel too synthetic to really “love” as a piece of even casual art.  If you can recall in your mental album catalogue the experience of early Stripes albums with their raw unpolished guitars and echoing drums, imagine the same looseness infecting electronic music.  If you can’t picture it, you need to hear this album.  If you can picture it you should already be downloading this album.

Sleigh Bells "Treats"

The four track opening combo on Treats, beginning with the banging “Tell ‘Em” and gathering a deep breath with “Kids” before climaxing with the album’s first single, “Infinity Guitars” is as strong an opening to an electronic album as I can recall.  The lyrical simplicity is buoyed by the rampaging noise of drums and guitars, and even when nonsensical, the lyrics have an anthemic quality (I find myself repeating the same two lines of “Tell ‘Em” endlessly and happily).  The rest of the album ranges in tempo but gives up nothing in quality—you won’t skip any tracks as you make your way through this, even after three or four listens. 

Before the afore-mentioned Ting Tings comparison sinks in too deeply, let’s be clear here:  the sound here is MUCH heavier than any of the Ting Tings work, but the presence of lilting feminine vocals over the synth-guitar that drenches most of the best tracks is an odd sound combination that more than works—it feels utterly new.  So imagine the Ting Tings with the drums and vocals but minus the “Yo Gabba Gabba” innocence (though Seth and Nathan would BOTH like to dance to this album).

Crystal Castles, Justice, Daft Punk, and now add to the list Sleigh Bells as artists who underscore the incredibly important fact that not just any hack with a synthesizer can make electronic music successful.  Amateur “artists” seem to see techno as the musical equivalent of poetry:  they string a few lines of clichéd beats together and think the music world should welcome in the next LCD Soundsystem.  So what’s the best compliment I can give Sleigh Bells?  They represent another techno act which should, by their very talent and fiercely original stylings, encourage the world’s amateur and wannabe electronic artists to smash their synthesizers and keyboards (preferably against their heads) at the sheer hopelessness of trying compete with such monstrous walls of sound.

Overall Score:  9.1/10


  1. Maybe link to a site for these artists so we can have a listen. I know nothing of this genre of music, but that's more a symptom of my grouchy/purist approach to music than anything. Very willing to open my ears a bit, though.

  2. Great suggestions--I'll try to do that in the future. In the meantime, allows you to stream any band you want for free. It's where I first heard Sleigh Bells, actually. I recommend checking out "Tell 'Em" and "Infinity Guitars" if you want a quick feel for them.