When you think of sleigh bells, the first things that come to mind probably aren’t shredding guitars, breathy vocals, massive amounts of electronic feedback and a noise pop duo based in Brooklyn. But that’s what Sleigh Bells (the band, not the instrument) is all about.
Far from the Christmas-themed images that come to mind, Sleigh Bells is made up of Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller, who met while Miller played waiter to Krauss and her mother at a Brazilian restaurant in Brooklyn. Miller mentioned that he was looking for a female vocalist for a musical side project, and Mrs. Krauss practically offered up her daughter on a silver platter.
The rest is noise pop history; the almost-strangers paired up, immediately began recording and soon released an EP that caught the attention of major publications like The New York Times, Pitchfork and Stereogum. They even performed at Coachella before the May 2010 release of their debut album, “Treats,” handpicked by Sri Lankan British alt princess M.I.A. to be on her label, N.E.E.T. Recordings. Recently, Sleigh Bells had their debut appearance on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” further spotlighting this already glowing duo.
Their sophomore album, “Reign of Terror,” not only follows the surprising success of their first album but also the sudden death of Miller’s father, who passed away in a motorcycle accident in 2009. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Miller referred to “Treats” as something “like a denial record” but that “Reign of Terror” is an unspoken musical acceptance.
“Born to Lose” kicks off the album with a gunfire-like drumbeat and a high electric guitar. The song then jumps into a defiant mash of guitars as Krauss croons with her sweet and borderline angelic voice, “Heard you say suicide / In your sleep / Just get on with it / You were born to lose.”
Luckily, Sleigh Bells refrains from dialing down the volume, keeping their heavy-metal beats paired with Krauss’ voice, which sounds more fitting for a lullaby than these lyrics, though they were all penned by the duo.
The general pop-like demeanor that Sleigh Bells tends to create has been slightly laid to rest for “Reign of Terror” as songs such as “End of the Line,” “You Lost Me” and “Leader of the Pack” come with slower beats and emotion-laden lyrics that seem like Miller’s attempt to deal with the devastating loss of his father. “Leader of the Pack” features lyrics muffled by an over-amplified guitar as Krauss sings lyrics like, “Now your mother cries and nothing matters,” and “Don’t you know he’s never coming back again.”
The real gold with “Reign of Terror” lies in the songs where the duo fully embraces their skill at this noise pop genre that they’ve helped make big. With “Reign of Terror,” standout songs feature huge sound and massive hair-thrashing potential. “Road to Hell” is a slower jam but doesn’t fail to lay down the jams. And lay down it does.
“Road to Hell” highlights Ms. Krauss’ voice as she sings “Go away for a while / ’Cause you can’t / ’Cause you can’t / See this again” with the dexterity of a rapper but with the voice of an angel, who also happens to have great hair. Did I mention how sleek Krauss’ hair is? It is.
With “Reign of Terror,” it’s hard to ignore the explosion of sound that comes with every single song. However, gone are the indistinct instrumentals that peppered “Treats” and in its place are darker lyrics, heavy and distinct guitar ballads that leave you with the most hair-thrashing, head-banging album of 2012. Let these Sleigh Bells ring on.
Rating: 4 out of 5