Sleigh Bells Sleigh BellsReign of Terror
The astonishing Sleigh Bells sold 150,000 copies of their debut album, making them the untouchable darlings of the indie scene. Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller had come up with a winning formula that effortlessly mixed his hardcore past in Poison The Well and her teen-pop headache in RubyBlue. Suddenly, their pop based on the contrast between abrasive noise and female candidness sounded like the most modern thing on earth - even Beyoncé wanted to do something with the duo. However, behind the success was a face, its sadness hidden behind a pair of black Wayfarers. It was Miller's, who was silently suffering the bad times his family was living: his father had died in a traffic accident in 2009 - while he was preparing their first demos - and when on tour a year later, he was told that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Miller didn't speak about those things with too many people besides Alexis, but instead used “Treats” as a shell to hide from them. Now it's time for “Reign Of Terror” - a second album that has been reportedly cathartic for the artist - on which he spits out all of the accumulated bile, as the only way to get rid of it. Although he admits he still hasn't learned how to deal with all his fears, to him these songs represent his “first attempt to try to not let that define me anymore”. Today, the band are on the cover of Spin magazine, they've set up the greatest tour on the independent scene with Liturgy and Diplo (in Florida), and it looks like Miller is finally starting to enjoy himself.
“Reign Of Terror” is a record of definitive affirmation. In that sense, it's something like M.I.A's “Kala” or Crystal Castles' self-titled LP. They all possess a similarly aggressive style and they are all second albums that lack the surprise factor - but they're all better than their predecessors. Sleigh Bells knew perfectly well what they had to do to make an impact once more, and they've worked hard to do so, repeating the formula but managing to improve it with new tricks on the mixing deck. Shane Stoneback, producer/engineer for other pop winners such as Cults and Vampire Weekend, helped them - by amplifying their already big sound under the direction of Mutt Lange, producer of AC/DC and Def Leppard. You could say that, where “Treats” was thunder, this one - although it comes after - is lightning. Now, Sleigh Bells are focussing more on harmonies and melodies – presenting a string of hits as accessible as “Treats”, but also harder when they need to ( “Demons”, “D.O.A”). Miller sounds like he's having fun with his new Jackson, and Alexis sounds at ease exploiting her sex panther image. Not only does her voice sound more juicy and playful, the bed of slippery arrangements on which she sways makes you wonder if there's any girl sexier than her on the present pop scene. I think not.
It took the couple two years to shape the brilliant “Reign Of Terror” - working calmly, choosing only the freshest and tastiest pieces to create the “sonic equivalent of a beautiful shotgun to the head”. Whilst other bands have to work hard to make great songs to follow their first deliveries, we already knew that Sleigh Bells are hugely talented songwriters - it is confirmed here. Listening closely, track by track, we have to come to the conclusion that they are incapable of writing a weak song, or even anything short of a hit. Each and every track on this album is hit material: from the Shangri-Las cover “Leader Of The Pack” (a morbid reference to the aforementioned motorbike accident), to “End Of The Line” (with a very Strokes-y guitar), “Never Say Die” (with a very Muse-y guitar) and the fantastic “You Lost Me” (this album’s “Rill Rill”), alongside “Road To Hell” (a sign of several My Bloody Valentine listening sessions), or the R&B-like vocals of the deafening “Comeback Kid” and “Crush”. Once stripped of all the dirty accessories, once the whole multi-coloured sound - in which they mix The White Stripes with Major Lazer (or would that be Peaches with Nirvana?) - is digested, what's left is a pop heart pumping glorious blood. At the end of the day, “Reign Of Terror” (like the magnificent “Treats” before it) isn't a dirty noise, pounding metal or rattling rock record - but a pristine collection of pop gems. It combines studs with jeans, strobes with neon light, medals with pistols and cheerleaders with thugs. In other words: excellent, again.