The Verge: Sleigh Bells

Welcome to The Verge: a column dedicated to music on the edge of a breakthrough. Lookbook isn’t the only pop duo on the verge. Here’s an upcoming band proselytizing music fans everywhere with the power of noise.

A teenybopper popstar and a screamo guitarist walk into a bar… Haven’t heard that one? It’s not a joke – it’s the impetus of the noise pop duo Sleigh Bells. Released yesterday, their debut album Treats is one of the most promising indie rock debuts since the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Fever to Tell. Since bursting onto the scene at CMJ 2009, Sleigh Bells has continued to ride a wave of hype, from SXSW to a spot opening for Major Lazer and Rusko.

Sleigh Bells is loud, pushing drums, guitars, and synthesizers way past the point of decency into deep red territory. Unlike the Loudness Wars, where mastering engineers simply amped up levels in an endless pissing contest, Sleigh Bells play at 11 for effect. The clipping and distortion on the record juxtaposes with the clean vocal melodies of Alexis Krauss. For the most part, the drums are simple boom bap rhythms, so the extra flavor and color of nice warm distortion is a feature, not a bug.

Derek Miller, the man behind the music, understands noise – he once was the guitarist for seminal post-hardcore band Poison the Well. Sonically abrasive music is his forte. Still, there are pop songs buried inside the aggressive audio assault. The brutal, industrial drums of album opener “Tell ‘Em” may obscure the arena-sized riff or saccharine vocals, but the hooks eventually prevail.

Krauss’ vocals occasionally resemble those of label boss M.I.A; Treats is being released in a partnership between Maya’s N.E.E.T Recordings and Mom & Pop Records. The rhythmic chanting of “Kids” and “A/B Machines” are right off “Bingo” and “XR2,” respectively. Her vocals are even sampled on “Rachel,” Krauss’ breathy gasps adding another layer to the percussion. Still, it’s a long way from – and an improvement over – the pop stylings of Krauss’ early 2000s girl group RubyBlue.

A song that diverges from the cacophony is the Funkadelic-sampling “Rill Rill,” which relies on the classic riff from Maggot Brain‘s “Can You Get to That.” The song works as a summery respite from the first fifteen minutes of the record, which reflects the album’s brevity. The 11 songs total just over a half hour, which is about as long as you should subject your cillia without risking (even further) tinnitus. And if you catch Sleigh Bells live, I’d suggest ear plugs. No joke.

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