It's time to talk about Sleigh Bells. With a new video out this week and a b-side making the rounds of the blog world, it's obvious that these sonic pranksters aren't going anywhere just yet. While many have touted them as a progressive style of fun and enjoyable music, I have to respectfully disagree.
Some context: The new b-side, "Holly":
Fireworks are visually stunning, and aesthetically pleasing, mostly because they can be observed from a distance. They are fleeting. They are also noisy, sparkling balls of explosive material. People lose limbs when they misuse them. Sleigh Bells and their music is not unlike this kind of danger, they revel in their rebellious, loud, almost raunchy misuse of sound. Their guitars sound like a hundred animals spontaneously combusting. Their drums sound like a low-budget blown-out subwoofer. Their vocals are an afterthought to murdering your headphones. Something tells me that Mozart, if modern mischievous depictions are correct, would have been obsessed with their irreverence. Treats is a hipster kid Mass written in the pop music vernacular, with loads of sex, drugs and nudity. If there was a hipster high priest, he'd be pissed.
The puzzling thing is, in reality, hipsters love it (whatever a "hipster" is these days, but that's another discussion). Kids have been lapping this up like vintage sunglasses, tight pants, and bicycles. Everywhere I turn, there is another audiophile exclaiming their love of this complete disregard for human hearing. It's one thing to require earplugs at a live show, but you shouldn't need them in the comfort of your own home.
The complete disregard for anyone's well-being is kind of cool, in a nihilist way... like, music with which to burn your FM stereo while doing lots of blow. But the idea of rebellion as cool is as old as time itself... hippies, punks, noise music, all cater to a subset of musophiles who crave evolution in the form of the initially shocking. It's the artistic progression. Hypothetically, Sleigh Bells isn't doing anything new. A few keyboards are cranked, one or two chord progressions rumble over a beat that clicks on and off with a button, and most of their instrumentation can be recreated with a child's Casio keyboard and six or seven maxed-out amps. The sound may be larger than life, but stylistically speaking, it's just another heat-seeking missile in the compression arms race of popular music. Listen to an album from the 90s, and listen to the acceptable loudness levels of production now. It's like night and day. Always will be.
This is where I get into a bit of a tiff with the rambunctious tunes of Sleigh Bells. They are really polarizing, and I'm not sure if it's for the music, or for the sake of being polarizing. Having consumed massive quantities of fuzzy noise music, Lou Reed's weirdness, and others, I don't think my cranky cries of "listen-ability vs abstraction" are unfounded. It's the age old question of abstraction as art, except for one kink: how could near-abstract music also be called pop? Sleigh Bells achieve that duality, but still slant heavily toward the pop spectrum. And I'm relatively open to anything musically, but here, I'm just not convinced it's worth it to find the supposed accessible bits.
So Sleigh Bells are dangerous, better from a distance, and very in-the-moment. I can't deny this record is a bag of sugar and a beer bong, and maybe that's the appeal... the rush. Sleigh Bells are kinetic on every beat, pumping blood in overdrive with their synthesizers. But the come down, especially for people who like albums to grow on them rather than hitting them in the face repeatedly, is somewhat disheartening.