By Thomas Smyth, Muse Staff Writer
Sleigh Bells made an immediate impact when they burst on the scene with 2010’s Treats. Treats is a ridiculous album: loud guitar riffs backed by programmed rap beats and samples, lead singer Alexis Krauss cooing nigh on indecipherable bubblegum hooks, all produced to within an inch of its life so that it sounded clipped even at low volumes. The fact that it all worked is either a testament to the band’s skill or the due to the fact that the damn thing sounded so spectacularly different when it was released in 2010. It’s probably both.
Treats was very well received upon release, but the one criticism it couldn’t avoid was just how gimmicky many people thought the whole thing sounded. And really, the album does sound rather gimmicky, and while for the most part it still holds up, many of its tracks simply lack substance once one gets over just how loud they sound. It’s obvious that the band took these criticisms to heart, and with new LP Reign of Terror they have tried to add some songwriting and structure to all the noise. And to some extent, this works.
One of the biggest differences between the development of Treats and Reign of Terror is the addition of Krauss as a primary songwriter. With Treats, Krauss only entered the equation after guitarist Derek Miller had written most of the tracks. She has had much more input during the writing and recording of Reign of Terror, and her influence is immediately obvious. Krauss’s background as a pop singer certainly shows. Most of the songs on Treats simply barreled forward until they finished. By contrast, the songs on Reign of Terror feature a much more traditional pop structure, with defined choruses, pre-choruses and bridges. For the most part, this works in the band’s favor, with songs like the beautiful “End of the Line” easily standing shoulder-to-shoulder with any of the best tracks on Treats.
Miller chose to deemphasize the beats and samples in Reign of Terror, replacing them with full on metal guitar and keyboards. This has mixed results. Sometimes it results in a tracks like the wonderful “You Lost Me,” the shoegaze sound, more akin to something The Jesus and Mary Chain may have written than anything Sleigh Bells has done before. It’s a sound I wish they had explored further. “Comeback Kid” is another wonderful result of this experiment; the track’s memorable riff, forceful backbeat and Krauss’s gooey hook encapsulate everything that made Treats good in the first place. Other times this move falls flat. While “Demons” certainly has a great riff, but the lack of focus on the beat means the rest of the track simply doesn’t hold up. “Born to Lose” works a bit better, with its machine gun beats complementing the loud, simplistic riff. However, in many ways these tracks end up sounding a bit like filler.
And the problem with this album is that there is a whole lot of filler. I’ve listened to this album quite a few times over the last two weeks, and as I sit here writing this the only tracks I can recall are “End of the Line,” “Comeback Kid” and “You Lost Me.” The rest of the tracks are simply a blur, which is frustrating seeing as the three tracks I do remember are some of the best in the band’s catalogue. But that’s just it, those three tracks, regardless of how much evolution the represent, are simply the only three tracks that engaged me. They’re the only three tracks I’ll remember a year from now. This might be the worst possible criticism for a band like Sleigh Bells. Regardless of your opinion of Treats, it was nothing if not memorable. Ultimately, I really don’t think Sleigh Bells are a flash in the pan buzz-band. But they’ve got to take some serious steps forward to prove that to everyone else.