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Positive Feedback ISSUE 60
march/april 2012


Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror
by Nicholas G. Taylor


When thinking of sleigh bells, one likely visualizes Christmas, reindeers, crowded malls and a certain jolly red saint. For a minority however, sleigh bells bring to mind the Brooklyn noise pop duo. Granted, there is a gigantic divide between the two, and nobody could confuse one from the other. It's the strange and unlikely existence of this division that speaks as an endorsement to the original and creative sound of Sleigh Bells. It is only after listening to Sleigh Bells could one understand first thinking of Sleigh Bells the band vs. the association to Christmas.

Sleigh Bells first release, Treats (2010), was a surprising commercial success and its songs were used in popular shows such as Gossip Girl and the US version of Skins. That's unexpected considering the bombastic and loud nature of their music. But that's the real charm of Sleigh Bells. Yes, Treats was loud, but it was also pretty darn fun to listen too. If forced to describe their sound, it's kind of Slayer meets Bananarama. Really. This musical contradiction works, and works well. Are they loud? Yes. Do they have heavy riffs? Yes. What about catchy melodies? Yes. Are there danceable beats? Oh yeah.

Where Treats was seemingly about fun times Sleigh Bells second album Reign of Terror continues their trademark sound, however much darker and lugubrious. Most of Treats sounds like youthful innocence experiencing heartbreak and depression for the first time. "Born to Lose" is sung with a taunting waltz and the lyrics sound like the demented vitriol from a schoolyard bully. "Heard you say suicide in your sleep, just get on with it you were born to loose." As cruel as those words are, its message is about mocking the notion of suicide. The words are empowering for someone that's had enough with depression and the sorrow they carry.

Like "Born to Lose," the lyrics from Reign of Terror sound like lessons learned from the wisdom of having experienced hell and living to tell about it. The song "End of the Line" proclaims "I'm central now" after a failed relationship where one felt marginalized.

The innovative sound of Sleigh Bells is frenzied and orotund at times and at others focused and contemplative. The slower songs are introspective while the louder ones are all out blitzes. The image on the cover art is a prime example of what's in store for the listener: it's a pair of recently worn white Keds looking like their owner survived combat with spatters of blood stained on them.

Sleigh Bells is not going to be for everyone. In fact, most are going to be turned away by them. That's okay and probably a good thing. With so much homogenized music choking our airwaves, a polarizing sound is a welcome change.