Sleigh Bells

[Welcome to the second installment a new feature on Stereogum! Consider it an op-ed: In this space, we'll issue spot, and we'll argue. And so it'll be like every other post, just more specifically engineered to engage you in the sort of commentary and criticism we're seeing in the comment section these days. Every Tuesday we'll turn to Julianne Escobedo Shepherd to frame an issue, and most decidedly to take a side. Julianne is the culture editor for AlterNet, and has served as the Executive Editor of FADER; additionally, she's contributed to SPIN, Billboard, VIBE, New York Times, Interview, Pitchfork, and MTV Hive. She also blogs and Tumbls, just like you. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Stereogum. But the views herein are worthy of dialogue and discourse and inspection, and to that end, we present you with DECONSTRUCTING. Last week, it was Grimes. Today, Julianne turns her attention to Sleigh Bells.]

Bubblegum pop and butt rock were never mutually exclusive, but two camps in the same Midwest mall utopia, the archetypal soundtracks to riding in fast cars in order to chill out in parking lots. Sleigh Bells, the metal/cheerleader duo that famously came together over a quintessential mom-embarrassment incident (Derek Miller was the struggling waiter-musician, Alexis Krauss’s mom offered her daughter’s vocal services) captures this mutual malaise as if they’ve been living it their whole lives on Reign Of Terror, their second album. The marriage of riffs, hardcore’s signature double bass hits (drum-machined, of course), and Krauss’s virgin suicides fantasia of a voice coheres the concept they promised on Treats (though I prefer the EBM/industrial leanings of that album). And it’s all very gender-binary — the airier and poppier Krauss’s voice gets as Miller’s deep rockstar dreams play out, the more fully it realizes itself. On “Born To Lose” and “Road To Hell,” when Krauss is doing her best Kim Deal and Miller, his Joey Santiago (I mean, those two are Pixies outtakes, right?), the dreamier it becomes. Miller’s discussed the personal trauma that led up to this album, hence the dramatic/metal-referencing song titles, but sonically, it reads like escapism, all glossy refrains and drum fills writ large. If it’s an album about pain, it’s also about mythologizing it — maybe to make more manageable or, you know, not-cliche. When I first saw their album cover — Krauss’s pristine white Keds sullied by drops of blood — I hated it, it seemed so obvious, the shoes symbolizing the innocence juxtaposed against the evil. Having listened to the album several times, though, it feels deeper than that, a mission statement that does not reduce their project to oppositional forces but the interaction between them.

Right now, there is a weird idea people are putting forth that, obviously, since it was a band that was formed rather than naturally occurred, it somehow must be illegitimate now, and the sophomore album is like, “OOH THE RUSE IS UP.” Nick Catucci puts it nicely in ArtInfo: “Sleigh Bells can be thought of as inauthentic for a number of reasons, depending on one’s fears and biases.” (He then lists them, and it’s worth reading the whole piece.) For instance, because Miller wrote every iota of Treats (and because Krauss was once in a teen-pop ensemble called Rubyblue), their manufactured elements supersede any enjoyment one might get from the music. It’s an interesting thought, considering the past few years that have seen even the most indie-rock stalwarts embracing their love of Katy Perry songs, but disdain for Sleigh Bells on the basis of their biography is a strange continuation of the old ways of thinking — pedestalizing the idea of the band in the garage, Dave Grohl style, even when the internet has supposedly obliterated the alt-vs-mainstream rubric.

And that’s precisely why Sleigh Bells is interesting — when the cheerleader chick and the stoner dude were never meant to be (or at least that’s what they told us in the movies), in this era, they can make beautiful music together, to get intentionally corny. Maybe they’re the logical end to a different-world narrative, Pretty In Pink style, and conceptually so awesome because Andi (Miller) ended up with Blaine (Krauss). Though I haven’t seen Sleigh Bells in a couple of years, Krauss’s stage presence always seemed forced to me, like she felt uncomfortable and awkward putting on the vampy headbanger steez but thought she had to because otherwise there’d be nothing else to look at. But in retrospect, it’s also the stance of a woman trying on another persona for size, expanding her perception of self, but not abnegating the bubblegum, average American white girl center of who she is. Miller’s got his own rockstar dreams, too, but live, he’s more of a vessel for Krauss (which I think maybe makes him a feminist?). Yet their chemistry is inextricable; only together can they chew the scene.

Comments (115)
  1. Let’s fuckin go

  2. like your perception of sleigh bells, I find that some of your critiques seem “forced” and yet I am interested in your over analysis as a means of generating both discussion and job security.


  3. “…when the cheerleader chick and the stoner dude were never meant to be….”

    Out of all the lines in this article, I have the most problem with this one because Alexis and Derek are neither of these things, even if we’re just trying to assign character types seen in movies to them. Derek is, by hardcore standards, a badass handsome young buck slinging around a guitar who has both relativity and danger to his personality while Alexis is the chick you’ve always thought was pretty and super nice but just needed some style for you realize that “Holy sh*t, she is a total babe.” And those two stereotypes always ended up together, so no, it’s not a surprise these two found each other. That’s just my experience with stereotypes and envying other dudes for their ability to take chicks I like away from me, though.

  4. I agree with the view of Krauss on stage, but I think it’s more interesting to compare that to how she comes off in video: On stage she kind of makes me uncomfortable for her, on video I want to propose to her. I don’t know what I think of that.

  5. I’ve always (or at least since I saw their profile in GQ) thought it was weird certain people would simultaneously find LDR so offensive and Sleigh Bells so great.

  6. huh. I think it could’ve been explored more why people have the disdain for sleigh bells’ supposed ‘manufacturing’, and maybe not katy perry. you know, these issues of legitimacy and sincerity. I don’t think it’s so much about mainstream vs. alternative in this case, but genuineness (is that a word?) and uh, the opposite of that (this is why i don’t write these columns). Whether or not the Katy Perry we see is the real Katy Perry; she plays the part of the pop-star, and well, she is a huge pop-star. While Sleigh bells could be seen as feigning some kind of ‘cred’, which I think is fundamentally different. and I guess the author said it herself, Krauss seems uncomfortable/forced onstage. like she’s obviously trying to be something she’s not. but she also kind of said, maybe this isn’t a bad thing, she’s ‘trying on another persona for size’.

  7. I would like to comment that this band is way more style than substance.

    • Word. This reads like an apology for all the hype. Who exactly are these “indie-rock stalwarts embracing their love of Katy Perry songs”? And did Stereogum just compare these two to the Pixies? REALLY!? I think you’re trying too hard to like it.

    • I agree, James. Though the article is clearly in favor of Sleigh Bells, it kind of supports that without directly saying it.

    • guys, what is wrong with sleigh bells?i swear to shabazz you people are fuckaduckad.

    • I would like to comment that as long as the style is good enough, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

    • I would like to comment that this band is way more style than substance.

      The ease with which this kind of thing can be said and understood is precisely the reason why this column is necessary.

  8. I’m sick and tired of people criticizing acts because their bio isnt ‘real’. music is art, its all a performance, its not supposed to be ‘real’, its entertainment.

    • I don’t think it’s that black and white. Yes, it is or can be a performance. People can adopt characters in music. But I think there is a way of doing that while still letting through their genuine characters/perspectives/themselves. I would argue that art is best when it is genuine. That doesn’t mean it has to be ‘real’ on the surface, a musician can adopt an alter-ego, for example, and still be honest. Just as an artist can claim to be real, yet be totally disingenuous.

  9. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Well, it’s a good thing she didn’t call this column “Deconstructing: a textual analysis following the tenets of deconstruction as developed by Derrida”

      • Nailed it.

      • Before Derrida, the word deconstruction meant undoing construction.

        Saying “Deconstruction: a textual analysis following the tenets of deconstruction as developed by Derrida” is like saying “Playing a major scale: playing a major scale as developed by the tenets of western music theory.” It is redundant: the word deconstruction, when used in an analytical sense, MEANS applying a method stemming from Derrida’s theory. The only other possible meaning of deconstruction is to take a building or machine etc. apart.

        By saying “Deconstructing: Sleigh Bells” and meaning anything other than applying Derrida’s theory of deconstruction to the music or physically tearing apart the band members, this column is simply misapplying the term. The word is either being knowingly abused or simply being used without the knowledge of what the word even means.

        If this wasn’t an intentionally analytical column, I would say that this is a minor nitpick – but this column is continuing to push hollow intellectualism on us, so… Greg nailed it, and LeMonjello nailed not knowing what he or she is talking about.

        • Agree, but would argue that since Derrida the term has passed into colloquialism and that that is how it’s being used here.

        • On the contrary, I think taking the most overworked piece of jargon to emerge from an academic fad that petered out decades ago and slapping it on to a column that has fuck-all to do with deconstruction… yeah, given the content of this column, I think it fits perfectly.

        • I can’t believe I’m engaging this, but…
          Look, the word ‘deconstruction’ or ‘deconstruct’ or ‘destructing’ has more than one meaning (of course) one of those is a specific type of literature analysis. But, since we are not analyzing literature here, that definition is not applicable. It also means, like you said, ‘undoing construction’ or to break apart, or as one of Webster’s definitions “: to take apart or examine in order to reveal the basis or composition of often with the intention of exposing biases, flaws, or inconsistencies ” to me, that definition seems to work just fine with what this column aims to do. I don’t understand why you insist deconstructing can only be associated with one specific definition. It’s just strange.
          The word has many definitions, she’s using one of them, what’s the problem here?

          • or if you prefer’s definition: deconstruct – to break down into constituent parts; dissect; dismantle.
            sounds good to me.

    • a) protecting the purity of deconstruction. lol.
      b) protecting the purity of deconstruction by reducing it to a form of textual analysis. lol
      c) protecting the purity of deconstruction by depicting it as the product of and subject to the authority of authorial genius. lol
      d) dismissing this column as a snark-fest by overlooking, in the rush to be snarky, the column’s attempt (admittedly, journalistic, but see points a, b and c above) at critiquing presence through a challenge to the value/concept of authenticity.

    • Jacques Derrida doesn’t have anything to do with this article. If his thinking has informed this in any way, then it is very indirect. The term has grown past the meaning it had during his development of it in the 60s and 70s. It’s a larger word with a wider meaning in contexts outside of academic philosophy.

      In the context of this article the word deconstruction seems to make sense. The author is trying to tear apart the stereotypes, the image, and the personalities surrounding Sleigh Bells to see if he/she (?) can make sense of them.

  10. I don’t know if I misread the sentence, or just don’t know what entails being unauthentic, but how does Derek writing all the songs in Treats make them seem fake? Granted, writing your own songs has no bearing on the quality of your music, but I would think the opposite is a sure sign of a band not being genuine.

    • because bro he should just fulfill his destiny of being a fake, produced pop act, because he came out of nowhere, didn’t pay his dues playing shit shows for years, didn’t stumble upon a unique and exciting blend of all that is shabazz and was just lucky enough to be groomed and chosen for this act OH WAIT NONE OF THIS IS TRUE WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE.

      Something has happened. it’s like, lanagate has bled into everything that is good in this music world. Nevermind that this article is a fucking car wreck of underdeveloped and confusing analogies, but all of YOU PEOPLE with your sleigh bellalingus hate. why? I don’t get it. I got lana, it made sense, i know why you hated her (because of her sex MARRY ME <3 <3 <==3 ) but with these two it's just a sweet story and everyone is shitting on it. Let these kids have their fun because, I'll tell you what – I'll tell YOU what, I'm gonna hop on the back of this wagon for a ride.

      and it's rarely just, "oh I don't like the music" its all "this isn't authentic durrrrrrrr" "sellouts I'm gonna burn all my poison the well" jk no one has any

      but what I'm saying is Reign of Terror is this year's Black Up for ol don. I know what you're thinking "Don, how big is your jimmy?" Why are we even talking about my D? Why are we talking about whether or not they're real or fake when they are real. they're focusing on cultivating an image now – big whoop. big whoop everybody. come on man, we should be imagining how hot their babies would be and how the fetus would be 1 month premature caesarian sectioning itself with a serenade axe solo of dick shredding proportions.

      "take you to the candy shop?" sleigh bells asks – I say, "um, hello? yes please."

      come on guys, it's enough.

      tl/dr. don.

    • I don’t care one way or the other, but I don’t understand why he’s said to have “every iota of Treats” when they are registered with ASCAP as both having written all the songs.,s,w,p,b,v&results_pp=25&start=1

  11. Well, I love me some comment bait, and not only that, but comment bait article that rationalizes a band I very openly and proudly dismiss because I feel one of the bandmember’s authenticity questionable (that band member’s name is iPod MacEYEPoddington)

    So really, and naturally I just absolutely want to UNLOAD.

    Also I take back any defense of Julianne I made last week. I contend that while the last “Deconstructing” was not as bad as a lot of people made it out to be, even though I disagreed with the point she was making…this one I not only disagree with (again) but also I think it’s so completely wrong about every single point it makes I don’t know where to begin. I’ll just pull quotes that are incorrect things:

    Krauss’s virgin suicides fantasia of a voice – not accurate
    Miller’s got his own rockstar dreams, too, but live, he’s more of a vessel for Krauss (which I think maybe makes him a feminist?) – no it doesn’t
    And that’s precisely why Sleigh Bells is interesting – boring music isn’t interesting because of how a band was formed or anything else about their biography. Even if you don’t find it boring (it is) the band’s biography is irrelevant to how interesting their music is. They’re a band. They play music.
    For instance, because Miller wrote every iota of Treats (and because Krauss was once in a teen-pop ensemble called Rubyblue), their manufactured elements supersede any enjoyment one might get from the music. – NOPE
    Right now, there is a weird idea people are putting forth that, obviously, since it was a band that was formed rather than naturally occurred, it somehow must be illegitimate now, – Nobody thinks that, and if they do, they’re a fucking moron, and if you are citing them in this piece as the majority instead of dismissing them, like you should, then you’re just propagating a terrible opinion by terrible people for a very contrived purpose of making a trivial point.
    (I mean, those two are Pixies outtakes, right?) – NEVER COMPARE SLEIGH BELLS TO THE MUTHERFUCKING PIXIES

    • Also: quintessential mom-embarrassment incident come on, Julianne. Look up Quintessential. A mom tried to hook up her daughter with another musician? THAT’S the quintessential embarrassment incident?!

      Nah, I take back everything. Forgive me!! Terrible thing, this is. Fool me once shame on me, but fool me twice…shame…well…you can’t get fooled again is what I’m sayin. Not good.

    • The iPod on stage thing seems to me like an odd thing to focus so much vitriol on. Plenty of musicians have used prerecorded material as part of live performance: Animal Collective, Steve Reich, Mario Davidovsky (these two among many, many other new music composers who’ve written for live instrument accompanied by tape) anyone who uses a sequenced drum machine onstage (Radiohead I think?), I could go on. Thoughts? Is it that the prerecorded stuff plays such a central role?

      • I would argue absolutely that it is because the prerecorded stuff plays such a central role. (Also because Sleigh Bells sucks beyond the drum machine, but that’s a completely different argument for a different time.)

        There’s just such a massive difference between using sequences in music versus using a drum track as a metronome.

        Disclosure: I used to play cruise ship guitar fresh out of university. When we backed the dancers, we played to a click track as well as a backing track (because backing dancers with music – particularly on a rocking boat – requires perfect tempo and rhythm and that’s just how it’s done best.)

        Anyways, playing to a click is really easy. It’s like playing a video game on Rookie mode. It takes all the difficulty out of keeping time and remembering the form. The bosses all die after two hits, and you can take like 50 bullets before croaking and even when you do you have unlimited continues that put you right back exactly where you died.

        If the music is difficult I would give consolation – If you’re trying to pull off something really incredible, then obviously there is leeway. You can’t tell me that Reich’s compositions or even Radiohead or Animal Collective are easily pulled off. Even WITH sequences there is a lot going on. Those are complex arrangements.

        Sleigh Bells are a pop band. They play essentially to a click track. And what they do is already not very difficult or interesting. So I maintain what I’ve said since the beginning – on a recording what they do is acceptable because it follows the rule: “If it sounds good, that’s all that matters.” Like…if I’m high as hell and I’ve got my headphones on and I’m looking to REALLY listen to music actively, then unless it’s important to the context of the music, the fact that the recording uses sequencing is irrelevant.

        BUT where it comes to performance, it’s cheap and phony to get up and play to a click track/prerecorded full song drum track. Remembering and performing a songs form and keeping time is an integral part of music. Take that out, and I feel you HAVE to replace it with something else. Like good dancing. Or INCREDIBLE guitar licks. Or something interesting. Otherwise, it is really really boring and lame. At least Britney Spears has some choreography going on while she lip syncs.

        • Good points, all. Upvoted to neutralize whoever is downvoting you. I plan to write out a more thoughtful response to this, but for now, my job beckons.

          • Thanks. I’m sure there are counters! The above and all of it is clearly my personal opinion, and is not fact.

            I ask for a lot from performers of any kind – What you lack in difficulty you have to make up for in other ways, I say: artistic content, originality, humour, nuance…

          • another problem is Sleigh Bells can afford any drummer they want at this point. that they don’t have a band dynamic is depressing, too, or that they’re reclaiming this hardcore/crunk sound which is so strongly rooted in local scenes and locals helping each other out. i guess working with other people is too hard or too scary. hardcore/dirty south hiphop shows are ruthless and Sleigh Bells is the easy way out for listeners who aren’t brave enough to listen to music that is written by people who actually care. and there’s no better way for an audience to know “the singer is a self-centered egotripper” than the drummer rolling his/her eyes during the between-song drunken jokes, but you don’t have that with Sleigh Bells. also, Alexis cannot technically sing. just going for those whimpery talking vocals is not SINGING. it’s like listening to a 14 year old girl singing quietly to herself while she does homework. apparently their SNL performance has received comments like, “is she tone deaf” .. pretty pathetic that all the indie kids are fighting each other over HYPE while the majority of the public with no idea of the band’s bio would just say, with open ears, “damn this is just unlistenable.”

          • @Bryan

            That is absolutely another beef I have. Starting out, doing the canned drums is one thing. You can’t afford to pay another musician? I promise, I could not possibly understand that more. It’s tough enough finding musicians worth working with who have good attitudes.

            But once you’re in the game? Once you don’t have to work a day job to support your art? Once you have an extra 8 hours every day to hone your craft because you’re making money doing the thing you love? Once you’re no longer doing your own publicity, booking, promotions, designing and printing your own flyers? Paying to rent gear and transport it to and from shows between cities? Funding your own recording? Lose the iPod.

          • crabtron  |   Posted on Mar 7th, 2012 +1

            “the majority of the public with no idea of the band’s bio would just say, with open ears, “damn this is just unlistenable.””

            (Sorry, I’m trying to reply to Bryan here, but there’s no “reply” button next to his comment). I don’t think you can say that the majority of the public would or wouldn’t like Sleigh Bells. I think their songs have an immediate likability and catchiness that many people would like, but then I can’t really say that for sure either, just because I can’t speak for that many people.

            And in general, I don’t much care about musicianship, even in a live context. Whether Derek hires a drummer or uses a drum machine, he’s still not the one playing the drums. Live, he’s only controlling one aspect of the music. This is not to say that I don’t hold artists to high standards when they perform live–I do. It’s just that I don’t care how they arrive at that standard, whether they use real humans or gadgets or robots. Maybe they’re robots themselves; you can’t prove they’re not. What the hell am I talking about at this point? I guess I’m just saying that for me, not only is an album a finished product, but a live performance is also a finished product, and its success is based merely on whether it sounds/looks good or doesn’t. And I’m not arguing against you not liking Sleigh Bells–just against your reasons for criticizing their live use of a drum machine (at this point I’m mainly addressing you, djfreshie. Jesus, I’m just glad to be finishing this comment finally).

          • @ Crab

            I get that point, but if you’re saying that the only thing that matters live is the sound, then where is the line? Is it Lip Synching? Because lip syncing to an incredible record put through great speakers in a nice acoustic room sounds great, but nobody”s actually playing anything.

            This is still my problem – there is a line where a performance requires “performing” something. I don’t think any real music fan wants to pay money to see people not-play something, even if it sounds amazing. There has to be a point where we say “Hey guys, no…look, it sounds nice, but you have to get a human being in there to operate an instrument please, because we paid to see that,”

            My point is iPod drums. That’s my threshold. If you can’t get someone to play drums in real time or operate a sequencer or do SOMETHING to the sound in real time. No robot drummers. UNLESS THERE IS ACTUALLY A ROBOT. Then, that would be fine. A robot band I’d pay to see.

          • crabtron  |   Posted on Mar 7th, 2012 0

            I never actually go to live shows, so I guess there’s no risk on my part when it comes to “experiencing” live music the way I do. I just watch youtube videos, so if I don’t like a performance I can just leave it with the click of a button, and I don’t have to worry about staying through some shit show just because I want to get my money’s worth.

            When I think about it, it’s definitely not true that I don’t value musicianship to some extent. When I watch that 4AD video of St Vincent playing “Surgeon,” I’m absolutely blown away by what looks to me like some amazing guitar playing on Annie Clark’s part. Nor would I try to claim that Sleigh Bells are anywhere near as talented as she is. But I still have a fairly high tolerance for musicians who don’t appear to be very adept at playing their instruments live, as long as they manage to make it sound good in some way.

        • A real drummer would wreck this band. So would choreography. The only reason this band ever garnered attention was because they had cornered a sound, a the clash of loud simplistic drum machine sounds, loud simplistic over-distorted power chords, and straight up pop vocals. The band makes an esthetic choice by sticking to an iPod. They’re definitely a style over substance band, and I don’t think they’ve ever done anything to suggest they’re the opposite. Saying they’re wrong to make those choices is like telling a graffiti artist he’s wrong to stick to walls and aerosol.

          • I’d say it’s more like telling a graffiti artist that I will never personally pay to look at his boring tags because he’s just writing his name under easily accessible bridges using Stencils he bought at wal mart. No skill involved. And his tags are original sure and incorporate bright colours, but they suck nonetheless. it’s just a boring lame name.

            And it’s also like telling people impressed by a guy who tags his original-but-still-boring name that I find their taste questionable and that I will never take a recommendation from them again because of that. “No thanks!” I’ll say. “There’s a guy who climbs up buildings and burns incredible landscape portraiture on skyscrapers!” “Enjoy standing under a bridge though looking at a dude’s name, though, don’t let my subjective but pretty rational opinion keep you from that.”

          • What I’m getting from your reply is that, when push comes to shove, you value technical ability and complexity more than originality of style. You’re labeling an artistic choice as laziness – or rather you’re not willing to give someone credit for making the most of their relatively limited abilities if their abilities are too limited for your taste. And that’s OK, that’s how you feel and you can’t help it. It just reminds me of what a lot of people used to say about punk and rap music.

          • I don’t see any “originality of style” looking at Sleigh Bells. Everything they do has already been done, and they don’t do it better than their predecessors/contemporaries.

            I don’t see it at all as apt to compare it to complaints of laziness as it pertains to rap/punk either – definitely I value complexity and technical ability, but neither of those are compulsory. I love Townes Van Zandt, I wouldn’t exactly call him a guitar legend nor a great vocalist. What he has is the gift of being an incredible lyricist and a powerful storyteller. His songs are simple, the arrangements completely unoriginal and mostly par for the folk-course. But there is one element – his words – that go well above and beyond the average.

            it’s funny, I’ve been making this argument for weeks and a lot of people have rallied to tell me why I’m wrong (unsuccessfully, by the way, I maintain that they are boring and derivative and garbage and have an Ipod that plays the entire form of the song on drums) but nobody has countered to make a case for what is actually good and interesting about Sleigh Bells. Not one.

          • crabtron  |   Posted on Mar 7th, 2012 +1

            What’s good and interesting about Sleigh Bells is their “quintessential mom-embarrassment incident.” Geez, didn’t you read the article?

            Jests aside, the main thing I find appealing about them–especially on Reign of Terror–is the timbre of Alexis’ voice, and the hypnotic quality it gives the songs, especially on the latter, stronger half of the album. It’s definitely a type of singing that’s been done before in countless dreampop and shoegaze bands, but I think she does it very well. I’ve always cared about timbre more than range–who cares if an artist can sing like Mariah Carey if they don’t actually do anything interesting with their voice? But basically I just find Sleigh Bells to be a good band to zone out to–enthralling, if not always innovative.

          • By originality of style, I was going by your own take on my graffiti comparison. You know, the shitty tagger who happens to have original with nice colors. My mistake, I misread you.

            But just curious: who are Sleigh Bells’ predecessors?

          • Seriously, who isn’ttheir predecessor? It’s a female vocalist with one or two guitars. Mostly diatonic harmonic and melodic structure, mostly simple time signature, mostly standard pop-structure form: Verse/Prechorus/V/PC/Chorus/Bridge/Ch…I mean, they are as STANDARD as it gets. I can start with Joan Jett & the BHs, and Sleighbells has evolved nothing musically or sonically since then, 30 yrs later. Different guitar pedals I guess.

          • Come on now, Sleigh Bells are nothing like Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. For one thing, the Blackhearts had a real drummer! Plus Jett and Krauss are not remotely similar in terms of their approach to vocals. And if the standard for a band’s worth is now to deviate from the verse/chorus/verse template, you’re going to be very busy talking down pretty much every band mentioned on Stereogum.

            All I’m trying to say is Sleigh Bells made simple, obvious-after-the-fact esthetic decisions that are actually pretty unique. And them ditching the iPod for a drummer live would destroy the very sound that prevents them from sounding like every other “regular” band. You can think their uniqueness sounds ugly, but saying they’re wrong to make that choice, or dismissing the opinion of anyone seeing an iota of value in those choices, makes you sound a bit close-minded.

          • Accusing me of sounding closed-minded is like accusing someone who doesn’t believe in ghosts closed-minded. There’s no evidence of uniqueness. I’ve yet to hear the argument about their uniqueness. I’ll brush that off, but however you have me pegged seems ridiculously off so far. I’ve listened and considered this band to a great extent and I’ve demonstrated it through about 50 comments already, so how on earth you’d think that is an example of closed mindedness is bananas.

            Frankly, I’m surprised you don’t see the JJ comparison, but if you want a more let’s say using the arrangement of Infinity Guitars as an example, I’ll go with Deerhoof. As a contemporary, Deerhoof is infinitely more interesting and complex compositionally to me than Sleigh Bells. There are clearly parallels to me between the call/answer guitar riff to vocal melody going on.

            I also have no idea why ditching the iPod for a live drummer would have a negative effect. Also, I’m not dismissing anything. WHAT IS THE VALUE. WHAT IS UNIQUE. Show me and I’ll dismiss it or accept. Until then, I’m dismissing what I’ve carefully decided is a shitty band. GIve me at least 3 OBJECTIVE reasons why I should give a fuck about this band. If you think they’re unique that’s fine. objectively, what is unique? If you think their sound is original, objectively, what elements of their sound has never been done before?

          • I’m late to da party buty ol’ D has got to get in on this action

            Not to take sides, but I’m with ol’cecil on this one (side taken). Regarding uniqueness, it’s difficult to find a true contemporary to sleigh bells. Seriously, who else is doing what they’re doing? NAME SOMEONE PLEASE. Deerhoof is not a contemporary. It’s like saying Yoko Ono’s vocals are comparable to fucking anyone who isn’t tone deaf.
            “Mep Mep. Boop boop. Mepmep boop boop boop” – Deerhoof
            *gunshot* – ol donny

            While anyone can make endless comparisons about any band, and brush off their material as derivative and unoriginal and, I think what you’re implying, shit, I think that’s a bit dismissive and unfair. The Strokes – perfect example. These bros are not original – they aren’t. but do we all love them like the children we wish we had? Yes. I’m so alone.

            with all due respect big fresh, I get the sense that you’re trying to justify a very fundamental hate of sleigh bells by ripping on their talent or use of an iPod. At the end of the day, let’s be honest here, the iPod is really not that big of a deal. It’s a 2-person affair, always has been, and the presence of a second guitarist is actually somewhat unpleasant. If you hate the band, that’s cool, but is the lack of an actual drummer that big of a concern? One of the best attributes of a band is their perception as a gang, and these two feel like a gang. It’s a united front. I don’t want fucking Pat Smear bobbing away like an asshole, give me the core/true members. the uniqueness of the band lies in it’s flawless pairing of 80′s bone axe with bare bones hip hop beats and breathless female wondrous everything that is good about women’s voices. The striking contrast between the vocals and the music is undeniable and truly unique. this hasn’t been done THIS WELL before either, and that I think is the big difference. if it has been done, who did it? I can’t think of anyone utilizing this setup or sound. The strokes came out with music popular 30 years before their time – did they FUCKING SUCK? No, they were/(maybe still) are amazing. But sleigh bells are more unique than these motherfuckers based on their sound alone.

            And I’ve got to disagree with both of you regarding style over substance. While the first album may have been just a titty dump truck of pure visceral magic (understatement), they’ve gone out of their way to emphasize the “substance” that went into reign of terror. Their recent interview in spin made this most obvious, with Leader of the Pack coming to mind and its association with the death of Derek’s father (which is all over this thing) and the Shangri-Las hit. that shit is all over the album and it’s not as blatant as “I sniff your envelope and fall to little pieces every time” but that’s not new to any form of art, and this is art. they’re striving for pure americana and hitting it – perfectly and with an undeniable sense of the current times.

            I saw deerhoof a few years ago and, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, wanted to rip my fucking ears out (risk averted). I try to be patient and develop an appreciation for difficult vocals, but these guys…. god dammit. the sleigh bells concert I went to I cannot describe – it was the best show I’ve been to in my life and I can’t imagine much topping it other than if shabazz gives birth to a palace ON STAGE INTO MY HANDS AND I CUT THE CORD WITH MA TEETHS. it didn’t matter if there was a drummer because that wasn’t important – the beat is secondary to the guitar and the vocals and the atmosphere. this bullshit the author says about their stage presence is ridiculous. She either caught them on a bad night or needed that to back up whatever the fuck her point was.

            tl/dr Bye!

          • holy hell that’s long. don’t bother reading it it’s just about farts and toilet nuggets.

          • This is going in circles, but I’ll just address your last question:

            “If you think their sound is original, objectively, what elements of their sound has never been done before?”

            The elements of their sound are not original. But the juxtaposition is.

          • The juxtaposition of guitars and a girls’ voice? Metal guitars? Marnie Stern might disagree. I need more.

          • Ugh.

            And synthetic sounding drum machines. And 80′s dumb hard rock (or as some have called it, “butt rock”) clichés.

          • I’m just reading some of this over again and I feel like we could easily be arguing about how the Spin Doctors are a fine band who have a unique sound.

            They should pay someone to play a drum machine in real time instead of exporting a song pattern to their iPod. I would pay to see that actually.

            Anyways, I’d say I’m at the maximum amount of time worth spending thinking about a band who does the equivalent of lip syncing for drums. Would you pay to watch a band lip sync because the sound they were going for had to include an 80s sounding vocalist and they couldn’t find anyone to do that voice for them live? Why is this different? To me it is not.

            Some of us at Stereogum LOVE lip syncing invisible drummers. Some of us think lip syncing invisible drumming is not worth paying to see live. Case Closed.

          • “But just curious: who are Sleigh Bells’ predecessors?”

            Le TechnoPUSS13S

    • AUTHENTICITY, that’s the word I could’ve used an hour ago.

    • “Hate it or love it, the underdog’s on top” – fid.

      think about tit.


    • “Right now, there is a weird idea people are putting forth that, obviously, since it was a band that was formed rather than naturally occurred, it somehow must be illegitimate now, – Nobody thinks that, and if they do, they’re a fucking moron, and if you are citing them in this piece as the majority instead of dismissing them, like you should, then you’re just propagating a terrible opinion by terrible people for a very contrived purpose of making a trivial point.”

      Here, here! I read that line you referenced, Freshie, and thought, “If people are forwarding this idea anywhere, it’s the cafeteria of a high school.” Just, WHAT?

    • what did i tell you about 50 cent quotes?

    • My generalization of what Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is trying to say:
      1. The band was manufactured instead of naturally formed.
      2. The band peaked with their first album, and even that was corny and inauthentic.
      3. The album’s visual and sonic aesthetic is cliche and predictable, forced and not true to the members’ personalities.
      4. They will be aligned with tired reference points like Pretty in Pink either because they are unoriginal or because I am unoriginal…or both.
      4. They suck live.
      5. People don’t like them.
      6. Despite all of the above points, I will state that this band matters because I am phony and I’m compelled to rationalize why a bunch of reasons something blows culminates to why it is cool.

      How did I do?

      I’m all for this column existing but this Julianne is way off base…again (in my opinion, last week she wasn’t off regarding undervaluing Grimes but instead because of why). Let it primarily be about the music…and Sleigh Bells’ music blows. I can prove it with sciences and statesticles.

    • I wouldn’t like to make an attack on any of the comments being made in the thread or even a direct response to their content, but I would like to make a general observation. I think that it’s great, sad, and telling all at once that a legitimate discussion was formed in this comment section by the readers/commenters. It’s clear that people are genuinely thirsty for a column that engages them and allows for such discussion. The unfortunate thing is that everyone had to completely dismiss the article itself to create their own. Obviously, there were real topics worth exploring related to the group -feelings about prerecorded music in a live setting for one- and I commend everyone for finding a way to dig in and locate those actual points and exploring them, despite having to swim against the current to get there. Stereogum seemed to identify with that need to provide such a forum for their readers; it’s just unfortunate that this column hasn’t managed to deliver that with it’s own content, but merely despite it.

  12. “Pedestalizing” is an assault on the English language.

  13. For the second time, reading something written by Julianne makes me feel like I’m reading an Ivy-league admissions essay that crams SAT vocabulary words and “advanced” grammar structures into every sentence just to distract from the complete lack of substance.

    I’m not against elegant, sophisticated writing — the internet could use much more — but this is not that. I WANT to read what she has to say, and yet my eyes glaze over from the distracting style.

    Style > Substance? Apropos given the subject of the article I suppose.

  14. I like to listen to it.

    How’s that for analysis?

    • I dunno, I’d say probably it’s not analysis? I guess?

      • My point is, who gives a shit if Sleigh Bells is real, fake, formed, up, down, left, or right. I want the actual music to be “deconstructed”, not all this bullshit about what the band “should” be or what they “are”. You know what they are? A band who uses drum machines to create punishing beats, loud and fuzzy Def Leppardish guitars to create surprisingly pleasent melodies, and a pleasing pop-friendly female voice to bring it all back down to earth.

        “Butt rock?” Yikes.

  15. Yeah… I mean, I get that they can do the whole “wearing jean jackets, letterman jackets, and leather jackets” thing really well, I’d just like to see them branch out. Maybe on their next album they could do more with starter jackets or windbreakers. A truly novel contribution, that.

  16. It’s unfair to judge an artist or band based only on their “bio”. If the music that they make is good, it shouldn’t matter if their backstory is “legit” enough for your pretentious tastes.

  17. This is just bad writing, thematically and stylistically. “Dave Grohl style…Pretty in Pink style,” not creative. Also- “it’s all very gender-binary” -what does that even mean? It’s almost insulting to the idea and theory behind the “gender-binary.” I absolutely hate it when people make feminist theory, or any intellectually valid idea for that matter, into a series of buzzwords…even words like “deconstructing.” She just can’t be so blasé about gender, not if she genuinely understands the binary theory. Ha, and since when does having a girl as a frontwoman make anyone a feminist? Does that mean that women are acting as subordinates anytime men represent them? And what’s with the question mark after that though? I might have been able to to buy that it’s supposed to suggest sarcasm if the content of the article wasn’t so vapid. But if you’re going to say something, say it. Also, there’s some implication that Sleigh Bells is changing the world or something because of their personal story, i.e. a cheerleader and a punk. Dumb. It’s ironic that the article mentions Pretty in Pink, because whether it’s a sarcastic shout out or not, this article reads like a John Hughes review. And it’s so funny, she argues that they’re suffering so much prejudice on the “basis of their biography,” as if a mild dose of controversy isn’t an asset in the pop-punk world. Haven’t been reading this publication very long, might not read it again, but this piece loses them a lot of credibility in my book.

  18. the jig is up…one trick pony…boring commercial seen to many times…you actually got to have something to make “cool” last these days

  19. There are too many truly awful acts out there to get so worked up over Sleigh Bells. They’re such a harmless band that I struggle to see what the big deal is either way. Oh well.

  20. Album still sucks

  21. When I hated this column last week, I thought it was at least possible that my love of Grimes was influencing my reading of it. I don’t care about Sleigh Bells, though, and I still hate this column. Julianne constantly sets up straw men; last week, people liked Grimes because of the zeitgeist and Tumblr and all this other bullshit, and this week, people hate Sleigh Bells because of inauthenticity and their own fears and biases and yet more bullshit. I’ve disagreed with Julianne both weeks, which, seeing how this is a column designed to inspire discussion, is totally fine. But last week I disagreed because I think Grimes’ music is catchy and sad, and this week I disagree because Sleigh Bells’ sounds one-dimensional to me, sonically and emotionally. I’m willing to argue both! But for the life of me I can’t plug myself into the conversation Julianne seems intent on having.

    • Yeah even though I found the first installment to be poorly executed (as you said: rife with straw men…the whole thing was simply completely ungrounded in reality) this one is even worse. At least the last one was controversial? I understand and respect that the author is a female operating in a male-heavy business (a business that discusses a male-heavy topic) with a male-heavy audience, but is the scope of this column going to extend beyond a glorified lead-in to a flimsy comment on female musician’s relation to herself? Which is a perfectly interesting topic – I would like a column on that topic much more than the formless ranting going on here.

  22. After reading the Grimes piece and now this one, I’m starting to question the purpose of this new segment altogether. I’m honestly not trying to attack for the sake of attacking, but, I really did have high hopes for this column. For some reason I thought that a different person might be tackling the column each week, but it’s clear that I overlooked something and that’s not really an issue anyway. My real issue is that I thought that there would at least be a new interesting topic each week, set to instigate discussion, but that only seems like a bi-product of what’s being posted. The discussion being generated is mostly just about how the column is ineffective at creating any legitimate discussions and, as that’s easily passable as controversial and risky journalism that’s evoking emotional responses in itself, on paper, in reality, that excuse is just a cop out. Sure, the column is generating plenty of feedback, but if all of the comments are about how the column is disappointing, I’m not sure that can really be labeled as a success. If we can’t have a different columnist, that’s completely understandable, but can we please get a different topic? Is every week just going to be the same writer “deconstructing” a band that she hates or “deconstructing” a band that she likes. Will she just continue to explain why or why not the readers should or should not enjoy something, break down who the artists “really” are behind the masks, delve into their “real” intentions, and tie it up into a bow so that, as a reader, you can determine if you should feel validated in your personal opinions or if you should feel like a ridiculous asshole because you’ve been ignorantly enjoying the wrong shit the whole time? This is becoming nothing more than, “you should like ___ because…” or “You shouldn’t like ___ because…” pieces. They’re just glorified album reviews without the album. They are whole band reviews, under the guise of bold, powerful, investigated pieces and editorials. They’re constructed in a manner to avoid even having to explain who the artists are and the problem with that is this: if the author took the effort to introduce the artists, their backstory, etc a little further, then it would read as if Shepard was trying to introduce the reader to an artist and explain who they were to her and how she perceived them. Instead, by writing them as if she is storming a castle and coming at a topic which everyone should already be familiar with, she is either neglected the pool of people that don’t have any frame of reference for the artists and leaving them in the dust, or abrasively coming full force at those who have already formed an opinion and letting them know why or why not they are correct for liking or disliking something. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against walking up to someone, knocking a CD out of their hands and telling them what they like is completely trash, if that’s what you’re into doing, but it just seems dishonest or, a the very least a mistake, to frame this column in the manner that it’s been introduced to us. I have no problem calling these “articles” out as pretentious junk, but I’m not going to pretend that I’m changing the fucking world or the musical blogoshpere by doing so.

    I couldn’t really embrace the Grimes piece because I felt that it was misdirected, but at least I appreciated the attempt at directing the topic towards something that was bigger than the artist -the idea of the blogosphere dictating .. what was it again? something… naive? or was it sinister? I can’t remember. Even if it seemed generously forced had no real foundation, at least it was an attempt to try and create some new level of framework around the subject. I was interested to see what would be next. What would the topic be about? Tastemakers in a post-John Peel world? Scouting rappers in the suburbs? It could have been anything, but what was it? … A “deconstructing” a female artist post. Both of Sheperd’s pieces have made sure to refocus the subject matter onto feminism at some point, which I would argue that most of the readers aren’t even thinking about or concerned with in these particular contexts. Click on the author’s name, which links to her bio, and then follow it to her site. Tell me how many articles or blog posts that you find that aren’t built around gender identity and feminism. If this is gonna be a column about women in the industry and if they are living up to their responsibilities as such (as defined by Julianne Escobedo Sheperd) then that’s what this column should be advertised as, so that it could save a lot of us the disappointment of expecting something less bland, played out, and uninteresting. I think that people are disappointed because they actually do want to be involved in a discussion and these articles leave no room for anyone in on the conversation. If you’re not the author, you are left out entirely. All that they can say is, “I hate that artist too” or “Hey, I love that artist” or vice versa. I’ve said it before, but if you are concerned about feminism and equality, it might be more helpful to have one less voice critiquing every move that a female artist makes and more beneficial to judge them based on pure talent and not what you feel may be a deeper rejection of their own gender identities. This approach is counterproductive for a number of reasons. If you’re only going to write about things in this fashion, then be prepared for every comment section to be filled with responses that are “deconstructing” Julianne Escobedo Shepherd. It’s the only conversation left.

  23. My only beef with this otherwise fine addition to the Stereogum line-up is Julianne’s insistence on prefacing her points with weird strawmen supposedly representing some consensus position to be dislodged (deconstructed?) Why can’t you just say why you find Sleigh Bells interesting without mentioning the detractors? Especially since your reasons for liking Sleigh Bells are by no means a *refutation* of the haters to whom you allude… one could find Sleigh Bells sort of contrived and also appreciate their chemistry.

    Also the “Pixies outtakes” things was stupid. Like if you’re going to defend the band, well, do it! Don’t water down your argument with these trivializing comments about how they aren’t really doing anything new and so this whole tempest in a tea-cup is kinda beneath you. People want insightful writers, but there is plenty of snark on the internet as is!

  24. I don’t understand criticisms of this column’s existence. It makes arguments about music and asks you to respond. What about that is damaging to Stereogum’s credibility? What about that is so offensive it should be cut now? I don’t understand. I liked this one fine. I got to the end, and wasn’t totally sure what to take away from it, but oh well. I see little cause for outrage.

    • The criticisms are exactly what you mentioned, there’s nothing to take away from it. I think that people genuinely would like to have a column that “makes arguments about music” that they could “respond” to, but all that’s been offered so far are two rants that seem to have no real basis or purpose other than reinforcing why or why not people should enjoy particular acts, while using every opportunity to make unwarranted claims that redirect the conversation towards topics of feminism.

      There’s no accounting for tone on the internet, but my impression wasn’t so much that people were “outraged” by the subject matter as much as they are disappointed and would still like to see the column become what it had promised to be.

    • Well some people are outraged at how ‘pompous and pretentious’ she sounds, which is a moronic attitude, when I think there is a much easier route to criticism of this piece, which is that the points it makes are incorrect, inaccurate, sometimes inarticulate but carefully screened using verbose language. SImply put: she’s wrong about the things she says and also writes them for a music blog where a lot of the readers (as Chris explains above me I’m realizing) are actually very hungry for musical deconstruction. We’re not getting it.

      • Man I did not make that point well – that’s what I get for drinking in the middle of the day – ignore me, read Chris’ explanation. We want music deconstruction. Badly actually. These “deconstructions” are very surface level explanations of why blogs are interested in these bands, which is something we probably already know or don’t care about.

        • Well, my feelings are that, even if people aren’t hungry to specifically read about music “deconstruction” I feel that they would at least still like something that fosters a real conversation. When the posts are built on such non-existent foundations, it really doesn’t allow for much, if any, entry into a discussion.

  25. Good column. Just read the Grimes piece too, which was also very entertaining.

    While I don’t think it will quite fill the hole left by the ending of Tom Ewing’s Poptimist column, this Deconstructing… series goes at least some way towards ensuring that thoughtful, critical commentary on music culture continues to be written and published.

    • crabtron  |   Posted on Mar 9th, 2012 0

      Yeah, I miss Poptimist. Is he just not doing that column anymore? Damn. In just one article, Tom Ewing singlehandedly introduced me to Twin Peaks, and Britney Spears’ album Blackout–two really awesome things that I would probably never have sought out on my own. He definitely had a unique aesthetic value among Pitchfork writers. Oh well.

      • Yeah, Tom Ewing is pretty much the best person writing on music around. The Poptimist gig is over. He still contributes to Freaky Trigger, still doing his reviews of every UK #1 in chart history, but his Poptimist pieces were something special.

  26. Haters gonna hate, they are just jealous of the success of one of the best bands to come out in years.

  27. “Right now, there is a weird idea people are putting forth that, obviously, since it was a band that was formed rather than naturally occurred, it somehow must be illegitimate now, and the sophomore album is like, “OOH THE RUSE IS UP.””

    There may be those select few who refuse to enjoy them based on the transparency of their shtick, but their sophomore album is more like, “OOH THIS KINDA SUCKS.” With complete disregard for the hype and circumstances surrounding the existence of Sleigh Bells, the bottom line remains that Reign of Terror is just a huge disappointment compared to their previous efforts. Treats was a distinctly riff heavy accomplishment on Miller’s part. But this time around, instead of upfront guitars complementing abrasive bass beats, generic metal chord progressions are just buried in the background.

  28. It’s not Deconstructing because nothing is being deconstructed (in any sense of that word). And it’s barely about the music itself. This article is about the perception of the artists themselves, but instead of “deconstructing” that, she’s just saying “I know people don’t like them, but I do.” I think it’s kind of nice that she’s not being a hater, but this segment should just be called “This is how I feel about ____”.

    • that’s right — because notions of authenticity and sincerity have never had anything to do with metaphysics of presence…

      • They’re simply feelings she has. She never referenced any direct interview/communication with the band other than from afar. She BELIEVES they’re are authentic, but that’s not an intellectual argument.

        • On my reading, the point is not at all to insist that Sleigh Bells actually are authentic. The point is that the very idea of authenticity is nonsense, incoherent. And that argument happens to bear quite a strong affinity with deconstruction.

          I’d expand on that point by saying that “authenticity” is just another vague and baseless notion in a long list of critical clichés (including “sincerity”, “soul”, “originality”, etc., along with their inverse forms of “contrivedness”, “commercialism” and “formulaicness”) that music appreciationists use in an attempt to shore up their otherwise highly contestable distinctions between “superior music of value” and “common, middle-of-the-road muzack”.

  29. Will she “deconstruct” Chairlift next?

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