The Planet-Obliterating Joys of Sleigh Bells
Alexis Krauss customarily sheds several spandex-based layers while onstage with her pulverizingly loud Brooklyn electro-rock duo, Sleigh Bells, but the effect is not remotely erotic; instead, it's like a professional killer trying not to get any of your blood on her clothing. The violently effervescent crowd this particular Tuesday evening is too riled up to be titillated, packed into Ridgewood Masonic Temple, a new Todd P. spot out in Bushwick that, despite the intensity of tonight's entertainment, is miraculously still standing. Allow me to type the words "pulverizingly loud" again. Krauss used to be a schoolteacher; her cohort, guitarist and producer Derek Miller, used to be in Floridian post-hardcore band Poison the Well. Together, they sound exactly how you'd expect a former schoolteacher and a former hardcore dude to sound together. Like the sweetest, cheeriest, most inspiring apocalypse imaginable. Like an army of cheerleaders with grenade launchers instead of pompoms.
Tonight's extra-musical props, tossed down from the wraparound balcony as the cacophony begins and batted around gleefully throughout, include several beach balls and a large inflatable shark, which ordinarily you'd peg as somewhat ironic, but, well, this time, probably not. Consider "Kids," an exhilarating highlight off the band's debut, Treats, that used to be called "Beach Girls," and indeed consists—over a concussive riot of thunderous drums, blaring synth wallops, industrial guitar shrieks, and generally sparkly sonic mayhem—of Krauss blithely rapping her way through a lovely day at the shore: "The breeze is nice now/I tell you right now/I sip my Kool-Aid/I'm feelin' better now." Occasionally, the mayhem eases up for a couple measures so the track can catch its breath, and a pack of giggling girls—former students, perhaps?—chip in diabolical-sounding pitch-shifted dialogue: "Wait, did I forget my sunglasses? Nope! Got 'em!"
Live, Krauss does this one solo, Miller and his black hoodie lurking offstage as she pogoes delightedly about to the planet-demolishing backing track like the world's deadliest aerobics instructor, but he'll be back soon to provide the stabbing one-string riffs and titanic power chords that carve up all that racket. Treats' leadoff hitter, "Tell 'Em," is simply enormous, perfectly combining their former gigs: He thrashes about with exhilarating furor and she breathily sing-songs her way through a rousing pep talk ("All the girls, all the girls these days/All the girls, all the girls these days/Did you do your best today?/Did you do your best today?"). "Straight A's," a 90-second hard-core rant that all but caves your head in through headphones, is even more inspiring, though what Krauss is screaming over and over is anyone's guess. Put it on repeat until you figure it out.
Given such exuberant sonic terrorism, it will probably not surprise you to learn that M.I.A. loves these guys. Treats is out (only digitally, at the moment) on her N.E.E.T. imprint; she crashed a Sleigh Bells gig at Williamsburg spot Coco66 a couple weeks back, just to rile up the Internet. Their approach to audio/visual warfare is certainly compatible—the band's official website, InfinityBells.com, will melt your computer. But it's a relief, in contrast to M.I.A.'s increasingly outrageous and incoherent Twitter-bombing and redhead-genocide video antics, that there's no stab at a sociopolitical agenda to decipher here, that Sleigh Bells' most well-known song, "Crown on the Ground," is so raucous and distorted and obliterating that lyrically, only the titular chorus is decipherable.
Only slightly more decipherable is Treats' soft, gooey centerpiece, "Rill Rill." Most of the album (a breakneck 30 minutes, just like their live shows) employs monolithic, skeletal boom-clap beats that sound vaguely familiar—two friends at the Temple spend the calamitous "Riot Rhythm" trying to decide whether it's more reminiscent of Clipse's "Grindin' " or J-Kwon's "Tipsy"—but "Rill Rill" far more explicitly samples the lithe piano-and-acoustic-guitar lope of Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That"—not a timid move. Over top, Krauss, in as close to ballad mode as she gets, coos more beach-girl ephemera: "Keep thinkin' 'bout every straight face, yes/Wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces/What about them?/I'm all about them." And then something that ends with "cut 'em in the bathroom." I am afraid to find out what, exactly.
The stage banter tonight happily provides few answers. Sample:
"What's up, Brooklyn?"
"WHAT'S UP, BROOKLYN???!!!!!"
And soon Krauss is back to full-on screaming, an extended wail that drops slowly in pitch like a falling bomb, broken up by the occasional giggle as the beat abruptly drops out and roars back in. Sometimes she picks up and bangs a tambourine, which has to be a joke, because there's no possible way that thing can be audible. The amps and PA system involved here are at death's door. As "Crown on the Ground" climaxes, she leaps onto the outstretched hands of the crowd, surfing along, just like that inflatable shark—another killer. It took months of Internet hype to get us here, which is an exhausting and deeply suspicious universe, sure, but whether or not Sleigh Bells get huge now is irrelevant. They already sound like it.
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