SLEIGH BELLS – Treats (2010)

A lot’s been written about Sleigh Bells already, even though Treats is their debut album; the band whipped the blogosphere into a frenzy with a few raw, voracious demos last year, and a few well-received live performances (plus an opening slot for Yeasayer earlier this year) helped the band cement their status as the Buzz Band of 2010. And with Treats, Sleigh Bells arrive to claim what’s theirs.

But I don’t really want to talk about that. What I’d like to talk about for a moment is the loudness war. Now, I won’t go in to all the details on it; it’s quite technical, and if you care to read more about it, you’re welcome to do so. But basically, it breaks down like this: since the mid-90’s, audio recordings have become entangled in a sonic arms race. Albums are being mastered at louder and louder volumes, and everyone is struggling to keep up with everyone else. And it’s not just mainstream, top 40 albums we’re talking about here – it’s everything. That new Spoon album of yours could probably go toe-to-toe with Lady Gaga, level-wise.

Now, much has been said already of Sleigh Bells’ nuclear decibel hemorrhaging, but it’s worth repeating. To wit: Treats rides each and every one of its audio peaks like a malformed demon destined to wage war in the aural apocalypse; it corrals them all into oblivion, laying waste to everything and anything on the way there, and builds a throbbing dancefloor out of the rubble. And then it grooves on it. Yes, Treats gleefully embraces all the negative sides effects of the loudness war – the distortion and the clipping, the blown-out frequencies, the total lack of subtly – resulting in an album that’s ugly, hellish and violent. And, considering the idiom, brilliant. Your ears might want to ignore Treats, but your feet won’t. The album goes completely against the grain of what is expected from dance music. And yet, it still is dance music. Somewhere, John Congleton and Steve Albini are smiling.

With a few mild exceptions (the songs Rachel and Rill Rill – the former is what I could loosely call “ballad”, and the latter sounds like an outtake from Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots), Sleigh Bells don’t really deviate from their search, destroy and swagger MO, and the album is stronger because of it. Songs like Crown On The Ground, Infinity Guitars and A/B Machines haven’t changed much from their demo versions (save for some crisper percussion), and newer songs like Tell ‘Em (which sounds less like a sweaty club jam and more like a pep rally anthem) fit right in to the mix. But perhaps the most surprising song on here is Kids (which, in demo form, was formerly known as Beach Girls). Energy-wise, it stands up to every song on the album, but it curiously alternates between trashy hip-hop and squelching demonic breakdowns wherein vocalist Alexis Krauss relays her vacation anecdotes to us in her creepiest movie-nightmare voice.

Despite the unorthodox power Treats wields as an album, if you break it down, it makes sense. Derek Miller was formerly the guitarist of the hardcore band Poison the Well. Alexis Krauss was formerly in a producer assembled all-girl pop band called Rubyblue. Treats is what they made together; it’s the product of an unlikely pairing, a pairing that decided to it take some risks at a conceptual level – and they paid off. More music needs to do that.

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One Response to “SLEIGH BELLS – Treats (2010)”

  1. […] it’s caked in decades-old grime, and Meds and Feds, a song built on the twitchty sampling of Sleigh Bells’ Treats. It’s not bad, really, but it’s agitating, and it only makes me wish I was […]

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