Sleigh Bells released their album, Treats, earlier this year. It came out in iTunes in May, and on CD and vinyl in September. They’ve been releasing songs since late last year and have enjoyed a steadily increasing buzz since their first myspace post. I get a distinct feeling that they’re going to be enjoying exponentially increased popularity by this time next year, especially bolstered by the youths who are just now discovering them.
Sleigh Bells is two people: singer Alexis Krauss (formerly of mostly-unheard pop group Rubyblue), and Derek Miller (formerly of very influential metalcore band Poison the Well). The pedigree of these two are not just colorful trivia–it’s the basis of the music. Sleigh Bells is, in its essence, 2000s nonsense-pop shrouded in heavy metal and noise. It’s what every 16-and-17-year-old couple wants to hear: singalong hooks for the girlfriend, shredding guitars for the boyfriend, and bass for the backseat. There’s a coyness in the vocals mingled with a menace in the backing track (which often overwhelms the vocals entirely) that encompasses the range of teenage emotions more than any “emo” band in the last ten years has come close to. And holy crap does it sound amazing coming out of your nephew’s truck’s multiple 12″ subwoofers.
Sleigh Bells was discovered, as usual, by the music bloggers and mp3 nerds on the internet. They started releasing songs on their myspace soon after their inception, and tellingly released their album on iTunes months earlier than it was available in any physical format. Their live setup typically involves a microphone, a guitar, and an iPod. The album’s production (and their ear-destroying live shows) is heavily distorted and overblown in a way that someone who grew up using terrible iPod earbuds can fully appreciate. In his discussion with Perfecting Sound Forever author Greg Milner blogger (and all-around cool guy) Matthew Perpetua discusses the intended listening experience for Sleigh Bells: “Itâ€™s kinda perverse, but itâ€™s so much better to hear that really loud on mp3 on bad speakers. Itâ€™s just how itâ€™s intended to be heard!” This isn’t how teens’ parents listened to music. It isn’t even how their older siblings listened–crappy computer speakers or cheap earbuds are very much the modern way to listen to music, and it’s the perfect way to listen to Sleigh Bells.
Sleigh Bells’ music itself is fun, bombastic stuff. With its roots in metal, in pop, in hip hop, it’s universal. I, a former-college-radio-DJ/”music snob” can’t get enough of it. My No Doubt/pop-punk/Mariah Carey-fan wife loves it. My Disney princessÂ and Yo Gabba Gabba-loving two year old daughter declares that it is “so beautiful” particularly after asking to “turn it louder, please!” Listening to it loudly (the best and only way to listen to it) will cause involuntary fits of air-ing: air-guitaring, air-drumming, lip-synching–the music lends itself naturally to all of these things in a way that many Rock Band songs fail to do. It sounds great coming from truly awful speakers (it’s pre-distorted) and it sounds epic coming out of a system with enough power to make the bass explode. That said, it’s noisy as all get out. The recording is far from clean, with compression, distortion and lossy crunches surrounding each beat. Any “adult” who unironically loves yacht rock or “the greatest hits from the 80s, 90s, and today” might have a tough time getting into it at first. But in three years when Black Eyed Peas rip the sound off wholesale, they’ll love it. And so will everyone else.