When listeners first encountered Sleigh Bells in early 2010 (or late 2009, if they were ahead of the curve), most were not sure what to think. Pummeling electronic beats, hardcore guitar arpeggios, angelic female vocals, no choruses. It defied logic, yet somehow, it worked.
The sound was something new, and the Brooklyn duo -- comprised of shy guitarist Derek Miller and vocal vixen Alexis Krauss -- was, in a word, badass. Perhaps it was their mutual love of gunshot sound effects, but M.I.A. agreed and signed them to her N.E.E.T. Recordings. A sonically interesting but lyrically impersonal debut, "Treats," followed, as did many strobe-light-fueled shows and piles of hype -- and with it, pressure.
The band's sophomore album, titled "Reign of Terror" (out this week), shows the band facing follow-up pressure with newfound vulnerability and at times, even a bit of artistic restraint -- which, combined, create an album that's darker than "Treats" but ultimately less assaulting.
Don't worry, the attitude problem is still there -- but instead of seeming like a bratty buzz band, Sleigh Bells reveal themselves, both musically and emotionally, on "Reign of Terror." Eighties pop, both of the metal (hello Def Leppard!) and Top 40 varieties inform the music, while familial tragedy inspires the lyrics (Miller's father was killed on a motorcycle trip in 2009; his mother was diagnosed with cancer less than a year later). As the album's cover shows, pain can be found in the most innocent of places -- an idea that particularly permeates the latter half of the album. But would it kill them to add in a chorus or two?
So which tracks on "Reign of Terror" are the standouts? We walk you through all the songs in our Twitter-length, track-by-track review. Tweet us your own reactions using the hashtag #bbsleighbells, and listen to the whole album below.
1. "True Shred Guitar" - That personal vulnerability? Not here. The duo opened with a live-recorded banger that features lyrics about loaded M16s and Def Leppard licks. "Treats" fans, rejoice.
2. "Born to Lose"- Miller shows off a nice bit of guitar call and response, while Krauss repeatedly croons "where did you go?" before the song slips into a lo-fi eeriness that I wish the album would channel more.
3. "Crush"- Krauss plays the anti-cheerleader (imagine Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video, only instead of apathy, a brooding sense), declaring her crush via rah-rah chants. One of the few carefree summer bangers on the album.
4. "End of the Line" - Breathy vocals and light syncopated beats combine in this '80s dance-pop ballad, but it's actually one of the album's sadder moments, in which Miller says goodbye to his fallen father.
5. "Leader of the Pack" - With a title like that, it's hard to imagine this midtempo track is a nod to anything else besides the motorcycle accident that killed Miller's father. There's a nice balance between aggression and sweetness, but nothing imaginative for Sleigh Bells.
6. "Comeback Kid" - There's no doubt the sophomore slump is killer, but making it the subject of the lead single off "Reign of Terror" is simultaneously too easy (c'mon! take your own advice: "You gotta try a little harder, you're a comeback kid") and genius. Apparently being a buzz band's hard, ya'll.
7. "Demons" - Am I the only one that thinks that the vocal and beat breakdown toward the end sounds like Katy Perry's "E.T."?
8. "Road to Hell" - This album highlight has it all: surf-rock swoon, chugging guitars, touches of chillwave, sexy vocals. Better yet, it's all mixed together in an uncharacteristically melodic way; the restraint shown on "Road to Hell" may be its biggest draw.
9. "You Lost Me" - If David Lynch ever remade "Dirty Dancing," this nugget of metal-pop nostalgia meets chillwave would make the soundtrack, no doubt.
10. "Never Say Die" - They really stacked the deck with a sinister bunch of songs toward the end of "Reign of Terror," but much like "Treats," latter tracks start to blend together.... right around here.
11. "D.O.A." - A gothy, sludgy end note that asks the question, "How come nobody knows how the chorus should go?" We're wondering the same of you, kids.