MIA’s new protegés have perfected a menacing, obnoxious sound all of their own
From the opening, crunching shot fire of [b]‘Tell Em’[/b] it’s clear why the reigning high priestess of the provocative multi-genre crossover, [a]MIA[/a], has taken Brooklyn duo [a]Sleigh Bells[/a] under her wing, signing them to her own label; not since Miss Arulpragasam herself has there been a track that makes violence sound so goddamn danceable.
Riffing along like a gangland war soundtracked by Grand Theft Auto, [b]‘Treats’[/b]’ opening gambit flits between coy vocals and grinding synths with playful ease, nestling itself in the crossroads between dance, rock, hip-hop and pretty much every other breed of party music in the book. It’s brash, provocative and laced with an array of noises that are not far short of pure evil. In other words, it’s quite resoundingly brilliant.
Throughout the album’s 30-minute assault it’s this constant teetering between grime and sheen that truly marks this pair out as something rather special. He (Derek Miller) used to be in hardcore outfit Poison The Well; she (Alexis Krauss) was in a teen girl band. He mans all the instruments; she sprinkles on the voice. Together their opposites-attract cunning distribution of labour licks the metaphorical plate clean.
Focusing for the most part around simple, guitar loops or tribal drum patterns, with Krauss’ sing-song vocal flitting over the top, Sleigh Bells’ strengths lie in knowing what to thrust forward and when to hold back.
[b]‘Riot Rhythm’[/b] (the grime cousin to [a]Gwen Stefani[/a]’s switchback sass-pop triumph ‘Hollaback Girl’), for example, works around a repeated drumbeat with interspersed guitars echoing Krauss’ lyric. It’s a minimal, spacious structure that allows the duo to fill in the gaps with a heavy dose of distortion, a spitting backing chorus and a huge flick up of the volume switch without it ever seeming overly crowded. This canny trick of theirs is one that recurs throughout their debut album. [b]‘A/B Machines’[/b] contains only one sole, cryptic lyric – “[i]Got my A machines on the table/Got my B machines in the drawer[/i]” – that sets a central trajectory through the fuzzy sonic concoction glitching and droning around it, while early track [b]‘Crown On The Ground’[/b] loops a repeated riff around Krauss’ increasing chant, counterbalancing the up-scaled production with a bombastic chorus that’d offer [a]Spinal Tap[/a], [a]Swans[/a] and [a]Sunn O)))[/a] outside for a scrap in the loudness stakes. ‘Infinity Guitars’ (the album’s finest moment) is all filthy riffs and handclaps with the singer’s shouts delivering her from delicate popstrel to ballsy vixen in a moment’s mere flick of her raven mane.
‘Treats’, then, lives up to its name but rather than a balm to the ears is a true shock to the system, creating a meteor-sized hole upon impact. Drawing influence across the board, it’s a work that not so much mixes genres
as smashes them into one visceral, jaw-dropping hybrid. MIA better watch her back; these two more than have the potential to come and steal the crown from under her nose.
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Click here to get your copy of Sleigh Bells’ ‘Treats’ from the Rough Trade shop.