Sleigh Bells – Reign Of Terror

To pre-empt all reservations about Reign Of Terror, it might be worth starting by gushing about the album’s unstoppable second single. “Comeback Kid” very well may be the best song of the year. I’m aware it’s early but suffice it to say that the bar has at least been set very high, so much so that, in light of ensuing paragraphs, it might even be worth considering it apart from the rest of the album.
“Comeback Kid” churns with nuclear force; guitar lines burst into flames all over the place, accompanied by the machine-gun chatter of the drums, spent shell casings littering the ground at even intervals. The video shows schoolteacher-cum-stadium rock star Alexis Krauss pulling shapes out of the playbook of Karen O between shots of her buoyantly jumping on a bed with a rifle in hand, invoking the Lynchian contrast from which Sleigh Bells’ defining aesthetic is derived: innocence versus violence, the dissonant chasm between the juvenile/innocuous and the grotesque, and “Comeback Kid” is the paragon of that combo on Reign Of Terror. They’re at their best when they sound like they might score a scene in which the Care Bears maul a pre-school camping group, or at the very least a campy pastiche of a school shooting. Come to think of it, why wasn’t there any Sleigh Bells in American Horror Story?
The rest of the album tries to reach that zenith and in one sense falls upsettingly short, given how much goodwill they engendered with their speaker-shattering debut. Treats was, in a word, fun: the sound of a party playlisted with hard rock favourites which still found moments to be sweet. Reign Of Terror maintains its aforementioned nuclear force – in fact there’s a part in the intro to “Demons” which, perhaps only incidentally, sounds just like the whistle of bombs dropping – but lacks much of the sweetness that made that force so moving previously.
On first listen it sounds inconsistent, poorly sequenced and because of its unrelenting assault, surprisingly fatiguing. Treats’ great success was in its balancing act, as much between verses as between songs. The blown-out cheerleader-y “Infinity Guitars” was off-set by the nursery rhyme-like quality of “Rill Rill”. The shrieking guitars of “Crown On The Ground” and “Riot Rhythm” were complemented by the bassier “A/B Machines”. The closest Reign Of Terror comes to a respite from its consistent blare is “You Lost Me”, but even that isn’t inoculated from a few soaring riffs. Undeniably awesome as they are, they also make it seem like there’s no shade in the overbearing heat of Reign Of Terror’s glare and, while played individually the tracks on Reign Of Terror each have distinct qualities that make them enjoyable, when played sequentially the blown-out recording melds into an abrasive and indistinguishable buzz like a persistent swarm of insects.
Lyrics never seemed especially pertinent to enjoying Sleigh Bells, they were just something to shout out while thrashing – what the hell does “Infinity guitars, go ‘head” even mean? – but Derek Miller has insisted that this time he had something to say. The problem is in his inability to let anyone in because even if these lyrics have immense personal relevance to Miller himself, they’re so generic and vague that they’re practically meaningless. Sleigh Bells offer trite platitudes like “I don’t want you to see me this way / What a way to die” on “You Lost Me” or even better, on “Never Say Die”, which Miller’s said in interviews was his favourite song on the record: “You know you wanna wanna / Because you’re gonna gonna.” So if the arrangements are exhausting and the lyrics are defensively vacuous, one daunting question arises: What is there that’s left to enjoy?
To put it concisely, the album basically exhibits the beloved hallmarks of Treats but without the precarious combination of what made it endearing. Sure it’s still loud as fuck and sometimes the drum machine still kicks hard enough to dance to, but by the time its 36 minutes are up, the noise has long since plateaued and become a state of (at best) tedious normality or (at worst) painful exhaustion. Obviously part of the problem is the expectations of the listener and anyone clambering for Sleigh Bells to explore their hard rock influences will be thrilled by Miller’s masturbatory guitar runs. On the other hand, Treats was invigorating and a killer album to listen to around other people, so if Treats was the party, Reign Of Terror is waking up hungover to find that nobody turned off the stereo.
by Jake Cleland

February 22nd 2012
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