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Record Review: Sleigh Bells’ Reign of Terror

By / Posted on 20 February 2012

Sleigh Bells — Reign of TerrorThe raucous and exuberant explosion of guitar thrash and sweet pop vocals scored Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells cavalcades of street cred and blog buzz when their self-titled EP was released in 2009. Their sound was unmistakable for anybody else at the time and seemed custom-tailored for commercial licensing in the very best way, but many critics felt their excitement wane with the release of the band’s 2010 debut LP Treats, nearly half of which was composed of rerecordings of tracks from the preceding hype-building EP. Sleigh Bells also realized that they were still young and untested, wisely deciding to turn down offers to perform on television (a decision Lana Del Rey would have been wise to have made herself), opting instead to license out their songs left and right. Tracks from Treats found their way into Gossip Girl, trailers for the movies Abduction and Bodycount and a commercial for Windows mobile phones. It was hard not to notice Derek E. Miller’s shrieking electric guitar everytime one turned on the television, but the question remained, does this duo have more than a couple commercial jingles up their sleeves? Only a follow-up album with new songs would provide an acceptable album.

Enter Reign of Terror. Exactly as many tracks as Treats and only a slightly longer run time, Sleigh Bells have clearly found their comfort zone, presentation-wise, and aren’t intending to knock their audience backwards with a rock opera, triple-disc concept album, which is certainly for the best. While Reign of Terror doesn’t change all that much on a superficial level, though, it does demonstrate a great deal more maturity and confidence in its craftsmanship than Treats ever hoped to. Musically, the record sounds more finished and refined, with thoughtful flourishes and fills that serve to make the entire package more dense and satisfying. The majority of Treats had been written by Derek Miller before Alexis Krauss joined the project, and as such many of those songs resembled little more than rough demos of catchy guitar riffs. On Reign of Terror, the collaborative spirit is prominently displayed, as Krauss’s pop roots inform the song structures with delicate bridges, pre-choruses, and even the occasional denouement (gasp!).

Sleigh Bells still have a relatively simplistic approach to rock music. Much in the same way the Drums have adapted the minimal loops of Young Marble Giants with the mentality of surf rock and dance music, Sleigh Bells are doing the same with elements of glam rock and modern pop. “Road to Hell,” with its soft atmospheric guitar fuzz and heavily echoed breathy vocals, is the kind of song that the hepcats from Twin Peaks would have written if they started wearing black eyeliner, spiked cuffs, and ripped fishnet stockings (this style also sums up the most recent appearances of singer Alexis Krauss). The accent drum sample throughout “Comeback Kid” sounds more like an assault rifle than the once-shocking “Machine Gun” by Portishead. These two sounds perfectly encapsulate the stylistic shift of Reign of Terror: more violent and more sweet.

Reign of Terror is an album that is designed to be listened to at a degree of loudness that would be classified as incredulous. It doesn’t always carry the appropriate degree of swagger, but oh my holy flippin’ glob is it still a tremendous amount of swagger.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.