February 21, 2012 - Mom + Pop
The biggest thing Sleigh Bells ever had going for them was the element of surprise. When most people listened to the New York City duo’s 2010 debut, Treats, for the first time, they were assaulted with blown-out hip-hop beats courtesy of a drum machine, Anthrax-heavy riffs from guitarist Derek Miller and vocals from Alexis Krauss that fluctuated from a staccato cadence to a sing-songy soprano. Whether you loved it or hated it, you had to at least acknowledge it as something new, fresh and exciting.
Unfortunately, on Treats’ highly anticipated follow-up, Reign Of Terror, Sleigh Bells no longer have that advantage over their listeners. Anyone familiar with the band have a pretty good idea of what a Sleigh Bells song “should” sound like—and Reign Of Terror doesn’t disappoint in that aspect—but unlike the bona fide dancefloor bangers that stacked Treats’ deck (“A/B Machines,” “Crown On The Ground,” “Kids”), Terror doesn’t have much in the way of fun. Opener “True Shred Guitar” is a minute-long intro track padded out by a minute-long intro to the intro, featuring Krauss doing her best arena-rock impersonation, yelling, “New Orleans! What the fuck’s up?” It segues into “Born To Lose,” an oddly paced power waltz with blunt lyrics about suicide that read more like what the characters in Mean Girls might fling at their latest victim (“Heard you say suicide in your sleep, just get on with it/You were born to lose”). The duo—Miller specifically—have really embraced the idea of high school with their image and aesthetic (even going so far as to record friends stomping and clapping on a set of high school bleachers to create the rhythm track in “Crush”). But antagonistic lyrics like this put the band on the wrong side of the jock/nerd divide. Aren’t we supposed to be the ones who were bullied, not the ones who did the bullying?
Krauss’ lyrics were largely syllabic gibberish on Treats, and it was for the better—when given the chance to lay her thoughts out on Terror, the results are forgettable. In “Demons,” she keeps her cheerleader chanting up, but with lyrics such as “Demons, come on/You got a vision, you’re on a mission,” you’re better off tuning her out and focusing instead on Miller’s riffs and drum programming, which make the song sound like end-level music for an old Sega Genesis video game. Miller’s most memorable work comes in the middle of the album, with “End Of The Line” and “Comeback Kid” (the latter of which being Krauss’ best vocal performance on the record), but even these songs don’t do much in the way of establishing any new ground for the band. In fact, “End Of The Line” feels like an attempt at recreating the magic the duo created with Treats’ “Rill Rill,” only without the Funkadelic sample.
But the real problem with Terror is its odd lack of energy. The final four songs are all mid-tempo mopes, slogging through strange shoegaze passages and a distinct lack of memorable guitar lines. Krauss’ vocals get lazier and lazier, as she rambles on about death (“You Lost Me”), death (“Never Say Die”) and, uh, death—or maybe cocaine use (“D.O.A.”). Unlike Treats, Reign Of Terror never feels new, fresh or exciting; it just feels like a chore.