Pop Addict: Sleigh Bells’ Reign of Terror

Sleigh Bells: Reign of TerrorSleigh Bells: Reign of Terror (Mom + Pop Music, 2/21/12)

Sleigh Bells: “Born to Lose”

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When Sleigh BellsTreats debuted in 2010, the Brooklyn-based duo, composed of Derek Edward Miller and Alexis Krauss, established itself as the new master of noise pop, infusing overblown electro beats and crunchy, gritty guitars into raucous compositions. But the album was much more than an experiment; it was catchy as hell. It was an unapologetic exploration of pushing “pop” music to its threshold and crossing it.

Now Sleigh Bells is back with its sophomore effort, Reign of Terror, and Miller and Krauss have added even more edge to their sound than what Treats had in store. From the opener, “True Shred Guitar,” guitar riffs are front and center — at first pulsating through stadium crowd noise and Krauss’ profanity-laden shouting, screaming to an invisible audience, and then erupting with an ’80s heavy-metal riff. The track explodes and then fizzles into the next: the first single, “Born to Lose,” infused with a swarm of double-bass blasts but with more cultivated vocals.

In the span of those two back-to-back songs, Sleigh Bells shows its prowess for shifting directions. Though the opener features a bit of vocal rawness from Krauss, “Born to Lose” tops the mid-tempo fury with the Krauss’ usual dose of sweetness. The album oscillates between these two positions, the soft(er) and the harsh, but is always backed by heavily distorted guitar work, thunderous drum-machine loops, synth-layered textures, and two-faced vocals.

And pretty soon it becomes clear: Sleigh Bells has concocted yet another genre-melting album.

That’s really the interesting part of Reign of Terror: though it feels louder, heavier, and more saturated (with a tinge of digital hardcore for good measure), the album feels more accessible than Treats. The album shouldn’t be approachable, but it is. Sleigh Bells has embraced the cheesiness of hair-metal bands (for reference, check those guitars and Marshall stacks on the band’s Saturday Night Live performance this past weekend) and embellished it, mixing the genre’s tropes with hip-hop beats and pop vocals. Sonic amalgamations are everywhere, and you need to look no further than “Comeback Kid,” whose riff-heavy focus and double-bass freak-outs contrast a hook-happy chorus.

The album takes a number of trajectories in the course of its 36 minutes, but above all, Reign of Terror is anthemic. Though synths and drum machines still play their roles, it’s clear that the harmonized distortions are the album’s focus, making it feel closer to Treats’ “Infinity Guitars” than “Rill Rill.” At its core, just as on Treats, this album plays on the juxtaposition of those power chords and upper-fret leads against Krauss’ delicate vocals and high-school chants. Reign of Terror asserts that Sleigh Bells is not just another noise-pop project — it’s a statement.

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