Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The now-famous story of Miller and Kraus' meeting is as spontaneous and unlikely as the music they've created together. Miller, waiter at a Brazilian restaurant in Brooklyn, mentioned to a mother-daughter pair in his section that he was looking to partner with a female vocalist. The mother, as mothers will do, immediately volunteered her daughter. Not long after, Miller and Kraus worked up some demos and distributed them on the internet, catching the attention of M.I.A. (via Spike Jonze), and were soon recording Treats for her N.E.E.T. label.
The resulting album is like nothing you've ever heard. Miller, previously a member of aggressive screamo rock Poison the Well, pulls the crackliest static from the distant orbits of hardcore metal and rhythmically pulses them in a blender, while Kraus either sings dispassionately along or, when the spirit moves, shouts urgently and chaotically. "Tell 'Em" is a great opener, with a kinetically fast bass beat, manufactured siren wails, raucously group-spirited hand claps, and a surprisingly cheerful guitar riff, which ascends from the downbeat after a few pickup notes and is joined the second time around by another guitar playing a third above. True, the lyrics are a bit thin (timidly suggesting by the end that "you could do your best today" ...you know, or not), but that obviously isn't the point. The beat is awesome, the production is awesome, and the head-bang potential is maxed out.
The next winner (and they're all winners) is "Kids," an urgent psychedelic homage to the chaos between youth and adulthood. (Indeed, the video on their myspace juxtaposes young children at the beach with 80's Girls Gone Wild: Miami-esque footage.) Here we have guitars mimicking sirens, tambourines on the off-beat, unintelligable lyrics, and, of course, the frightening sound of kids laughing and screaming. It is also the first to feature Kraus' voice as a percussive instrument, a technique used throughout the rest of the record. After "Riot Rhythm," another eyeball-exploding track with perhaps slightly less thought put into its execution, "Infinity Guitars" appears as the album's first real standout. It begins by presenting all of its composite parts separately, building the anticipation of the simultaneous freak-out slowly and purposefully. Kraus' drunk-high-school-girl-in-the-WalMart-parking-lot-yelling is moderately distorted over a laid-back beat, until around the two-minute mark when Miller gives us all the metal and velocity his pentagon-sized machines can muster. It's quite the show.
"Rill Rill" stands out later on the album for being more summery and nostalgic, but never loses the bizarrely well-placed beats that define the Sleigh Bells brand. The lyrics are appropriately hilarious ("Wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces? / What about them? / I'm all about them"), and the a cappella moment in the middle of the song reveals Klaus' impassive voice to be equally deadpan and alluring. The great, golden, shimmering church bells ringing in the background and super-duper-reverbed wood block make the song more epic than a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, jubilant and victorious.
Sleigh Bells' only weakness is, currently, a strength: their attitude of utter immediacy, crafting songs that feel good, following their own logic, regardless of external songwriting expectations. This attitude led them to pioneer a whole new category within indie noise pop, but hopefully it won't make their next efforts eye-rollingly familiar. (A song like "Straight A's," built upon the single lyric "Ain't no sleep, we want straight A's" works when it's unexpected, but any attempt to pull off something similar will just sound like the same old band attempting to pull off something similar.)
Whatever happens next for them, Treats is an unexpected delight for 2010, which promised to be a great year for music already: in addition to reboots of familiar sounds like Vampire Weekend, Panda Bear, The Arcade Fire, The Tallest Man On Earth, and so many others, this novel duo from Brooklyn is just the big, long-haired, sweaty head-bang of a surprise we needed.