, July 12th, 2010 06:01
The school teacher and the punk. It's a great set up for a modern day fairytale. Two people from different sides of the tracks meet by chance and show each other a world detached from their own, in the process forming a union which, however unlikely, produces something quite startling and really, oddly rather beautiful. Except this one isn't in the pages of some gnarled, leather-bound book. It began in a Brooklyn restaurant in 2008, and subsequently spread like wildfire, from the easy ears of a couple of friends and a clued-in few to the (rumour has it) iPhone of one Maya Arulpragasam and finally to the pages of NME, Rolling Stone and the New York Times. If Hans Christian Andersen were a rock critic, he might have penned something like this. Sleigh Bells are the most recent signees to arch-provocateur M.I.A.'s N.E.E.T. imprint, and a band who meld guitar riffs carved out of lightning bolts with the type of pop hooks that would put Lady Gaga to shame, all played so far up in the red that it feels like the world might explode. The duo are comprised of Derek E. Miller, ex-guitarist with post-hardcore also-rans Poison the Well, and Alexis Krauss, a former kindergarten teacher and one-time member of Disney-pop band Rubyblue. Not your everyday pairing, for sure, but it really works. The band might have been recipients of some of the most incendiary online hype for quite some time, but their debut doesn't disappoint. Its mix of corroded, blown-out beats and hurricane-strength guitar combined with Krauss' pop-star posturing serve to make Treats something special.
A word of warning, though. Treats is LOUD. Not just like The Who were loud, or like Spinal Tap were loud. But properly, punishingly, ear-shatteringly loud. It sounds like music for the devil to dance to, like Destiny's Child if they'd grown up listening to Slayer and Black Flag rather than Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. And that's what makes it so great. Neither Miller nor Krauss have abandoned their roots, forging some unholy union between the muscular blitzkrieg-crunch of hardcore and the sugar sweet melodies of FM pop, with the sharp snare-hits and off kilter drum punches of modern hip-hop thrown behind as a backing track. Krauss comes on like some untamed lioness, a screaming banshee preened by the pop Gods, singing in her finest, silkiest voice one minute, booming into a laptop mic the next, then slow-rapping like a cross between a deranged band leader and a genuinely fearless Gwen Stefani on the track after that. In a day and age where everything sounds like something else, Treats is genuinely refreshing, a real one-off and a delightful stroke of genius, a huge gamble for both band members that has paid off in spades.
Treats is one of those albums that sounds so fresh it's genuinely hard to fault. The full on blast of 'Straight A's' pushes the blown-out aesthetic slightly too far, perhaps, but even that feels a bit like a critic scraping the bottom of the barrel for something pejorative. The innate understanding of song structure and sheer scale of ability on offer is astounding, and no more prominently than on the fantastic 'Rill Rill', an unashamedly dreamy concoction that floats feather-like around the barrage of guitars. Like a boxfresh pair of Nikes nestling amongst a floor-full of busted Vans, in any just world it'd be a summer anthem, ringing out across the universe and making Lily Allen's indefinite hiatus infinitely more definite. It's the kind of step a new band often takes to make the listener aware of their diversity, a statement song that often flounders and sticks out like Louie Spence in a builders yard, but here it just works. As Miller noted in a recent interview: “It kind of sets up to do whatever…it's like we can make a metal record or a pop record. I don't feel restricted or inhibited in any sort of way, creatively, and that's so refreshing.” It's the song he's talking about, but it could just as well be the album. It's the sound of a band stretching their muscles, making us aware of what they're capable of, teasing us and leaving our mouths open, begging shamelessly for more.
'Rill Rill' begins a run heading towards the close of the album that's unlikely to be bettered this year. Bar the aforementioned 'Straight A's' it's followed by the one-two sucker punch of 'Crown on the Ground' and 'A/B Machines', two songs so flat-out fantastic that everyone else better lower their guitars and unplug their drum machines, because it's highly doubtful they'll come close to topping them. Listening to 'Crown on the Ground' is probably the closest approximation to what it might sound like in Lil Wayne's head crossed with an other-universe Metallica who were into French house and fronted by a 'Toxic' era Britney Spears. That's to say, it doesn't sound remotely like anything else out there at the moment. Its mix of My-First Guitar-Riff riff's, Krauss' sultry purrs, pounding, chest-vibrating beats and a chorus so catchy it'll end up in your dreams for weeks come together with such panache and an enviable effortless that it's a wonder no one thought of it before. It's a party song to end all party songs, its components so simple, combining to make a whole that'll have your legs moving and mouth grinning from ear-to-ear no matter how hard you try to stop them.
'A/B Machines' is equally as wonderful, Miller's menacing Mariachi riff paired perfectly with Krauss' ambiguous single-line declaration (“Got my A Machines on the table/Got my B Machines in the drawer”) and drum machine hits that sound like something Rick Rubin has had stored in the attic for the last twenty years. But enough of the praise. You get the picture by now. Treats is one-of-a-kind, fuelled by a meeting that should never have happened, set up by the Gods of music to give us something vital again. They might just be beginning, but the world is right there for Sleigh Bells to take, to put the wrongs right, to bring forth something fresh for the first time in quite a while. If they do decide to take over, there'll be no stopping them.