Treats, the debut album by the Brooklyn-slash-Florida duo Sleigh Bells that is available for you to purchase today, vaulted to “one of my favorite albums of the year” status pretty much immediately after it landed in my iTunes. “What does it sound like?,” people ask me when I repeat that statement to them, and it is actually a question that I have had a devil of a time answering. So let me start off by saying this: The album bows with a guitar sound that resembles a cross between the “pew pew!” that comes out of one’s mouth when one is play-firing a finger-gun and a skyscraper-sized, earth-destroying laser — and from there, it only gets bigger, and more fun, and more like a sugar rush that feels much shorter than its 32 minutes.
One of the things that I bemoaned about “indie” for so long was its overly mannered nature — bands that would garner accolades from critics seemed to me like music made for droning one’s life away in a vaguely creative cubicle farm, full of beautiful, correctly executed moments that had zero resonance except to serve as placeholders until the next batch of aesthetes came along. Sleigh Bells feels like it was created as a direct protest against this type of music — the songs that spill out of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss are vital and fun, maxing speakers’ volume in a bone-shaking way that can’t help but transfer outward to the rest of one’s person.
It’s probably also worth noting that many of the loudest songs on this record bear more than a passing sonic resemblance to the scrapey guitars and hyperloud posturing of metal. In a time when women all over pop have been relegated to roles that are predicated on their hewing to gender roles as much as possible, it’s especially gratifying to see Krauss just going for it rock-style, banging her head in concert and howling along with the squealing guitars. Here’s a demo version of “Crown On The Ground,” which, depending on my mood, can remind me of a blown-out take on George Michael’s “Faith” or an updated-for-2010 remix of those early-’00s dancehall songs that had a riddim based on the Cure’s “Close To Me.”
The album does have its quieter moments: “Rill Rill,” which is built around a Funkadelic sample, seems poised to be the group’s crossover hit — it’s all loose-limbed guitars, with Krauss repeating the phrase “have a heart” over in such a way that I can see it quoted by many a teenage Tumblrer. But I also love the similarly dreamy “Rachel,” which feels like a lost experiment by My Bloody Valentine.
But for the most part, the album is loud, and aggressive, and fun. When I talk to people about Sleigh Bells, it’s interesting to see what points of comparison come up: Krauss’ cheery voice lends comparisons to pop; the blown-out sonics cause people to reach back to ’90s techno. While perusing Twitter earlier I saw comparisons to Ludacris, Dirty Projectors, and T. Rex. Treats is probably going to be a very polarizing record, but after an era where inoffensive blandness ruled the roost, I do not think that’s a bad thing at all.
(Another notable thing about Treats: It did not leak onto the Internet before its release date, which is a huge feat for a band that appeals to the “people with computers” demographic. How this happened I have no idea, but I suspect people from labels of all stripe are asking around about this topic. You can listen to it at NPR’s Web site. The duo is also on MySpace.)