Premature Evaluation: Sleigh Bells Reign Of Terror
There’s not a band in recent memory that nailed the landing quite like Sleigh Bells did in 2010 with Treats, its M.I.A.-cosigned debut. They were CMJ darlings back when being a CMJ darling was still sort of a thing, a Band To Watch, a band with so much expectation placed on them from the moment people knew who they were. By the time Sleigh Bells had hit marquee mags like The New Yorker (“It is hard to imagine anything stopping them,” Sasha Frere-Jones wrote. “Unless they do something perverse like hire a band”), it was on the strength of only a handful of songs, some still demo-like in their roughness. Treats came out, sold 149,000 copies, was a smash across-the-board, critically, and pretty much established the group as the go-to act of the moment when it came to youthfully vibrant, thrashing, pop-friendly anthems (being the first person someone thinks of for something is typically good for licensing).
Treats’ successor, Reign Of Terror, was recently teased with two lead singles, the chugging comedown “Born To Lose” and the infectious “Comeback Kid,” which hinges on a chanting chorus and comes paired with an awesome, inherently GIF-able music video. Where Treats showcased a newfound polish — but not too much, as to keep intact the sound’s purposeful roughness and ballast — Reign Of Terror seems more fully formed, more guitar heavy (credit a Jackson USA Soloist that Derek Miller has claimed as his main axe), more willing to dive far in to their established indulgences, hair metal-leaning guitar stack squeal, demented, earworm cheerleader singalongs, thudding, booming beats, and that ratchety, CH-CH-CH-CH-CH-CH sound (you know the one). It rephrases the spirit of Treats without fully reinventing it; it might not match the immediate !!! of the first time you heard “A/B Machines” or something, but the streamlined sonic progression Reign Of Terror is all at once logical, deliberate, and entirely addictive, from the “We Will Rock You” stomp of “Crush” to the dreamlike churn “Never Say Die” to the relatively austere breakdown of closer “D.O.A.”
Like everything about the Sleigh Bells project so far, Reign Of Terror’s execution and presentation is meticulous and attentive to their strengths, both musically speaking and with regard to their aesthetic and posturing. (I mean, if you’re going to sum up Sleigh Bells in a single image, blood-splattered Keds is a pretty fucking good image). Back in their “next big thing” mode, they were asked to play shows and TV spots and they said no, thanks, citing the fact that they weren’t ready to make that happen the way they wanted to make that happen. (They’re ready now, though; they play SNL this weekend). Reign Of Terror is a darker record — “Born To Lose,” according to the lyrics, is at least partially about suicide — and it’s difficult to sense how the record will fare a month, even a week from now, for a band whose sound is so visceral, instanteous and physical. But, in true Sleigh Bells fashion, the timing is flawless: Treats is still rather fresh in the memory where the excitement hasn’t completely tapered off, and in a couple weeks it’ll be spring. I can’t imagine a scenario where I won’t be hearing Reign Of Terror blasting from a set of speakers somewhere in the immediate future (hopefully ones with durable tweeters; this is, after all, a Sleigh Bells record). It just all fits together.
I talked to Derek Miller in 2010 for a piece for TONY, where he said, “We both have tremendous respect for bands that are that calculated in the way that they design their image and their aesthetic. I just don’t think that’s our strength.” Which is funny. Because that makes the least sense of all.
Stream the album now at NY Times’ website and let us know what you think in the comments.
Reign Of Terror is out 2/21 via Mom + Pop.