What is it about Brooklyn bands lately? While the neighborhood and NYC at large has long been a breeding ground for popular musicians, in the last decade there was a decided surge of great music being made by a slew of bands that all happened to have come together in that storied borough. Among them my favorites are the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, MGMT, Dirty Projectors, Panda Bear, Grizzly Bear, Chairlift, and the list goes on.The most recent entrant into my roundup of Brooklyn music is the up and coming Sleigh Bells. This guy/girl duo released their first full-length album Treats last May, and I have been playing it on repeat very often since discovering them over Christmas, when the band’s name seemed very seasonally appropriate.
Starting strong with the single Tell ‘Em, prepare your ears for an assaulting, full force guitar riff and gunfire percussion backing up a paced snare drum snap and the repetitive, oddly sweet vocals of singer Alexis Krauss. Derek Miller is the guitarist and songwriter, formerly of the progressive hardcore band Poison the Well. Krauss has a background in music that started with her joining an all-girl pop group at the tender age of thirteen. In an interview with BlackBook, she talks about her early start in the music industry and how she grew to become disillusioned with the discrepancies between what she liked to listen to and what she was performing as part of the curiously unnamed girl group.
In early 2010, thanks in large part to film director Spike Jonze’s discovery of their MySpace page, the band came to the attention of M.I.A., signed to her label N.E.E.T. Recordings and were soon performing together, giving them exposure to her huge hipster audiences. In March of 2010 they played their biggest festival to date, SXSW, alongside the increasingly divisive Sri Lankan MC. Their rising cache among musicians and listeners is well deserved and legitimized greatly by gushing reviews from alternative online music press like Pitchfork.
While Tell ‘Em is definitely a highlight of Treats, I have also grown to love Rachel and Rill Rill, both of which comprise the album’s midway pièce de résistance. The first few seconds of “Rachel” is desperate breaths right into the microphone, which repeat incessantly behind a throbbing synth rip and Krauss’ gorgeously obtuse cooing about some girl named Rachel. Not all the songs have such cryptic lyrics, with the great line in “Rill Rill” (wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces/what about them?/I’m all about them) sung over piano and percussion that is remarkably lo-fi among the album’s other intensely loud tracks.
On top of the innovative sounds on Treats, the cover art is a delightfully creepy photograph of some 80s cheerleaders with freakishly distorted faces. Viewing it while hearing the contrast in Miller’s thrashing chords and Krauss’ soothing vocals, the hairs on the back of your spine might stand up. This is an impressive debut from yet another Brooklyn band, definitely the most exciting album of the year for me so far.
Sleigh Bells – Treats [N.E.E.T./Mom&Pop; 2010]