Why did it take us this long to get here? The Bomb Squad was MacGyvering killer beats out of sonic scraps and chunks of wailing audio refuse way back in the late 80s, so why did the pop applications of noise have to remain on the fringes for this damn long? M.I.A. and Diplo helped to wrench the floodgates open in the mid aughts, with far-reaching effects that can be heard everywhere from the tragically underrated Saul Williams/Trent Reznor collaboration The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust, all the way into the relatively sanitized club fare of Lady Gaga. Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells take this aesthetic to its logical and most gleefully brutal extreme; they take a universe of fuzzed-out percussion, piercing guitar, and squalling feedback, and compress it into 33 ecstatic minutes of sweat-inducing dance pop.
Producer/songwriter/guitarist Derek Miller was best known for his work with Poison the Well, but unlike many hardcore musicians, Miller seems to truly comprehend the elasticity of punk. Treats’ strongest tracks hit with an animal ferocity that exists in perfect harmony with — indeed, actually enhancing — their poppier elements. Alexis Kraus’ vocals float above the seething musical backdrop, occasionally drowned out by the rhythmic spikes in bass static or shrieking treble. Her icy, even-keel delivery raises a melodic counterpoint to Miller’s siren-wails and machine-gun bass pulses. Only when she’s made too much the center of the compositions, as on “Rachel” or “Rill Rill,” does the album’s furious momentum sag.
But the stuff that works here outweighs the bad enough that it’s almost not worth complaining. The rave-ups and plateaus in “Kids” create a groove that’s impossible to resist. Miller pushes all of his levels into the red for the excellent “Crown on the Ground,” so that every stab of multi-tracked guitar and every spoken syllable pushes against the upper-limit of the recording equipment’s capacity. The resulting feedback haze creates a sense that the song is unraveling even as you’re listening to it. The blistering “Straight A’s” rushes headlong into Ministry territory, imploding after barely more than a minute and a half.
With all the glowing press this band has been getting, it’s almost inevitable that a mass Sleigh Bells backlash is waiting just around the corner, ready to sock the fawning members of the critical establishment straight in our slackened jaws (a quick Google search of the phrase “Sleigh Bells suck” turned up more than a few message boards and Facebook pages already). I’d hate to see that happen, because this album is simply too much fun for people to turn their back on it ipso facto. Sleigh Bells have latched onto an exciting undercurrent in contemporary pop music and put their own distinctive stamp on it. In the process, they’ve made a hard-hitting album that will positively kill on the dance floor. If that’s not a recipe for success your first time out, then I’m not sure what is.