Label: NEET/Mom + Pop
Don’t let the unassuming moniker fool you; Sleigh Bells make ear-splitting anthems for raucous nights. Treats is the product of a decade that incessantly cannibalized its pop music– sampled, looped, chopped and remixed it at the will of a collective attention span tired of artists before they even cut a record. Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss were listening closely, taking notes from the dance floor, and now they’ve thrown down a gauntlet of their own. It’s an all-out sensory assault of over-driven bombast that subsumes mash-up culture, transcends genre-bend and sets a new standard of loud. As an album Treats will rank among the year’s most divisive, but from hard-hitting peaks it heralds the Brooklyn duo as new king and queen of trashy pop candy.
Opener and lead-single “Tell ‘Em” eschews introductions with a barrage of rapid-fire percussion and soaring power chords. It’s all noise and no pop until Krauss’ sugary vocals mitigate the punishment in addictive juxtaposition. “All the kids these days/ Do you really wanna be that way?” she prods, supremely comfortable at the epicenter of Miller’s sonic chaos. Krauss has been there for almost two years since meeting the former Poison the Well guitarist, through whispered buzz and year-end accolades that followed Sleigh Bells from acclaimed live shows to the 2009 demo that ultimately landed them on M.I.A.’s N.E.E.T. Recordings.
Treats owes half of its 32 minutes to that collection, with five tracks making the cut intact and largely unchanged. Only “Beach Girls” receives a full makeover, renamed “Kids” and soaking its siren-like wind-and-punch in a new layer of reverb. Avant-rocker “Infinity Guitars” retains its Kinks-era protopunk riffing and Joan Jett-meets-Deerhoof vocals, but explodes into a massive new “Scentless Apprentice”-sized finish. When deemed necessary, renovations manage to push the mix even farther overblown and cataclysmic; it’s just that not all tracks need the help. “Crown on the Ground” was already as far gone as current recording technology would allow, threatening to lay your hi-fi to waste between rousing choruses. It makes the jump to Treats untouched, as urgent and densely in-the-red as ever. “Rill Rill” (formerly “Ring Ring,” another demo holdover), proves that Sleigh Bells can leave an impression even without resorting to penetrating onslaught. The track may still bleed distortion from its edges but ultra-breezy, ultra-catchy vocals and a Maggot Brain-sampling hook make it Treats’ truest stand-out; emerging like a crisp moment of pop clarity from the midst of a vodka-and-Red Bull-fueled noise-rock bender.
Solid new material fills out the space between recycled demo gems, but after the tightly-wound “Tell ‘Em”, Treats’ new treats have trouble consistently matching their level of explosive fun. “Riot Rhythm” is just the opposite, falling into a chanting march that can never quite deliver the goods while “Run the Heart” feels almost like a mash-up of itself with too many textures battling for the lead under Krauss’ sweet “ah-ah” vocalizations.
But to those who would write Sleigh Bells off as past-prime has-beens: hear the record out. Distortion-packed grinder “Straight A’s” kicks off a riotous final act that culminates in a glorious title-track finale. “Treats” features an absolute beast of a riff, bigger than anything I’ve heard for some time, and cacophonous metal-explosions reign down from above as Krauss’ angelic incantations slow-dance with the chaotic scene. It’s a massive finish for a massive album– one that spans hip hop to power pop with dirty head-bangers strewn in between. Even in its missteps, this is music that embodies every pop music ideal; it’s supremely visceral, sensationally engrossing and irresistibly fun. Treats will keep you reaching for the volume knob all summer long.