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Sleight Bells' Second Album Disappoints

 

I love buzz bands. I love them more than most Americans should, but they always follow the same pattern: a leaked single that stuns everyone, an album that gets placed on many critics’ album-of-the-year lists, extreme overexposure and then a second album that about 10 people buy.

I was really worried that this would happen with Sleigh Bells. Its loud-guitar, demented-marching-band, cheerleader-vocals shtick was so original and fresh when “Treats” was released in 2010 that it seemed like there was no logical way to follow it up. The band seemed destined for the “Pitchfork” throwaway bin, forever remembered only by the people who think drum machines are legitimately cool.

It’s fairly obvious that I was dead wrong about the “nobody caring” thing. As I write this, Sleigh Bells is currently tearing it up on SNL, looking positively dumb with its newly expanded three, count ‘em, three-man lineup, with the drums and keyboards and everything that isn’t guitars or vocals coming from some wizard backstage. They’ve been on some ill-advised tour of Florida with it-producer Diplo and black-metal wannabes Liturgy.

I really want to like “Reign of Terror,” I really do. I still enjoy the CHUGGA-CHUGGA PEW-PEWs that open “Treats,” but this album seems like they found the “annoyance” knob on the mixing board and cranked it past 11. 

They try new tricks (less distortion on the guitars, stabs of overly distorted synthesizers, loads of reverb), but, and I’m going to sound like an idiot here, it’s far too overproduced and really just sounds like they’re trying too hard. Everything seems less inspired.

“Treats” almost told a story; it read like the diary of a freshman in high school. “Reign of Terror” opens with fake crowd noises and what I guess is supposed to be a throwback to Guns N’ Roses or something, with singer Alexis Krauss imploring the faux-audience to “PUT YOUR HANDS UP” and various other clichés. Again, it’s just dumb and comes off with way too much irony. 

The annoyance continues into lead-single “Born to Lose,” with overly long blast beats, ‘80s toms and a monotonous melody taking up a majority of the song.

The album does sort of redeem itself, though, with the second half. For reasons I can’t quite articulate, “Comeback Kid” is a great song, even though it does everything I don’t like on this album, mainly the vocals being so high in the mix and the three-note keyboard line. This song kicks off a sequence of very different yet enjoyable tracks that have small moments that really highlight what’s great about Sleigh Bells. The album hits another high point with “You Lost Me,” which features a strange feedback guitar line and the classic Krauss-style vocals, light and airy as ever.

Sleigh Bells, God bless them, also tries to deal with much heavier subject matter on this album, rather than the “We’re kids, and we’re going to have fun,” theme that “Treats” had. 

Look, I get it, everyone wants to have a more mature sound and be taken more seriously. It’s a noble cause, but you can’t really juxtapose the “what a way to die” musings of “You Lost Me” next to the cheerleader yelling and overly loud guitars. It’s just plain weird.

I loved Sleigh Bells’ first album because it was a swift kick in the gut. This is more of a light pat on the face. It wants to be forceful, but it just can’t. 

Sleigh Bells lost most of its mean, gritty edge and tried to transform it into some sort of melodic sensibility. Tell them to get rid of the double-kick drum, bad production techniques and goofy synthesizers, and I’ll be happy to listen to the next thing they release. Until then, I’ll just keep blasting “Treats” until my speakers break.