The Sleigh Bells: nothing if not niche

The pitchforks are out for, and it’s all Saturday Night Live’s fault.

Last weekend, the Brooklyn metal-pop duo Sleigh Bells played a pair of songs from their new album Reign of Terror on the show. The online response afterward wasn’t quite as damning as the torrent of disapproval for Lana Del Rey’s perceived poor showing, but here’s what some people are thinking: The bar has been lowered for SNL’s music spots, and the show’s talent bookers are taking tips from indie-music tastemakers such at Pitchfork, resulting in a weekly parade of half-talents and disappointers.

It’s been suggested that because the so-called major artists won’t play SNL for peanuts – good for them, I say – SNL simply looks down a rung. It’s also been said that the sound on SNL is subpar, and that Sleigh Bells (for example) are, in fact, better than they appeared to be at 30 Rockefeller Center. I can’t speak to the first point. But to the second? Phooey on that.

Sleigh Bells relies on volume, style and shtick. The material of Reign of Terror, which is poppier but less interesting than its more assaulting and abrasive debut, Treats, is marked by programmed drums, the cutesy vocals of Alexis Krauss and the overdriven guitar belonging to Derek Miller. There’s an admiration for girl groups such as the Go-Go’s and the Shangri-Las. Cheezy, simplistic, metal barre chords are attractive to Miller – Poison is his poison.

That wall of Marshalls on SNL was for show. Miller plays noisily, but not bigly – and certainly not expertly. True Shred Guitar is the album’s buzz-saw greeting, opening with a sweaty live snippet, crowd a-roaring. “Push it, push it!” urges Krauss, a big fat beat at her back. There’s mention of an M-16 –Sleigh Bells fan M.I.A. must like that – and the guitar-as-an-assault-weapon-metaphor is crudely made. (If that isn’t enough, the liner-note photos of militaristic paraphernalia run the mullet-headed conceit into the ground.)

Melodic? Not so much. Mind you, D.O.A. is hummable – like a down-tempo Zombie by the Cranberries.

Crush is one of a couple of tracks that rely on cheerleader shouts and claps. Miller, the lyricist, has fond memories of the well-off Catholic-school girls of his past: “With your hair in braids, your mother tips the maid, blindfolded nun.” There’s also mention of shotgun sprays. And “crush” is used as an oppressive verb as well as a romantic noun.

Yeah, the lyrics aren’t cheery. Remember Mellencamp’s ditty about suckin’ down chili dogs outside the Tastee Freeze? On the dreamy, blippy You Lost Me, Krauss candy-croons about a double suicide behind the Circle K.

Top track? Let’s go with Comeback Kid. Snapping fingers, tripping electronic beats, a raw Cobain-ish guitar riff and Krauss’s coo add up to a tight, crunchy piece of work.

Comeback Kid was one of two songs performed on SNL. Anyone who saw the broadcast and was underwhelmed by the segments that began with “Ladies and gentlemen: Sleigh Bells!” shouldn’t bother with this record. What you saw is what you get with these guys. There’s certainly an appeal, and they don’t quite sound like anyone else. But it’s niche market, one that I’m not sure SNL is aiming for.

Reign of Terror



The End of That

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