Sleigh Bells: femme-fatale vocals and stabbing synthesizer
New York duo Sleigh Bells are like David Lynch at his most discordant. Dreamlike one minute and nightmarish the next, they craft melodious yet unsettling slabs of static-heavy electro-rock pitched somewhere between My Bloody Valentine and The Ronettes.
Sleigh Bells’ codified beats and nods to ’60s pop sound like a warped reflection of urban life, as evidenced on their 2010 ear-shattering debut, Treats, an album that successfully, yet somewhat perversely, made the transition from the blogosphere to the U.S. Top 40.
The duo’s chart flirtation is even odder given their respective backgrounds: Songwriter and guitarist Derek E. Miller spent his formative years in experimental Miami post-hardcore outfit Poison the Well, while singer Alexis Krauss quit the music industry after treading water in a manufactured teen-pop group that failed to find success.
But perhaps the pair’s volatile clash of musical styles wouldn’t have worked had their paths not been so disparate. If Sleigh Bells hadn’t come along, who would have thought that pummeling percussion and trill stabs of synthesizer could be married quite so effectively with cooing, femme-fatale vocals? Sleigh Bells truly are a marriage made in the tumultuous turf between heaven and hell.
If further proof is needed, a visit to one of their live shows should quell any doubts over the band’s ability to pool their respective skills and deliver the goods. Intense, energetic and above all else, loud, their riotous yet defiantly inclusive performances attract a diverse following that seems to revel in the sound whatever the frequency.
“We don’t feel like we should be appealing to just one particular group of people,” Krauss tells The Prague Post. “Yes, we’ve received a lot of praise from the blogging community, but I’m a pop singer, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Miller is inclined to agree, having scoured Brooklyn’s eateries in search of the perfect front woman for his fledgling project. “I was working as a waiter a couple of summers ago, and I would approach people I met in the bar and ask whether they could sing or play anything,” he says. “It took a little while before somebody said ‘yes,’ but that person was Alexis.”
Having recently given up her job as a teacher in the Bronx, and thoroughly impressed by Miller’s instrumental demos, Krauss quickly signed up. The only thing preventing the outfit from going full-time was Miller’s day-job. Luckily for him, however, an encounter with British rapper MIA took the decision to quit out of his hands.
“Somehow she got hold of one of our demos, and the next thing I know she’s flown to New York wanting to work together,” he says. “I obviously couldn’t say no, but it was so out of the blue that I didn’t have time to work my notice. I got fired, and it was the best thing that could have happened.”
Treats couldn’t be more apt a name for Sleigh Bells’ album, with the pair serving up 11 short, sweet missives laced with just the right amount of dissonance. Songs like “Kids” and “Rill Rill” – the latter featuring a particularly well-placed Funkadelic sample – are endearing in their lo-fi crackle, while more abrasive numbers, such as live favorites “Crown on the Ground” and “Straight A’s,” trade in unashamed discordance. Together, they form a package that’s a genuine guilty pleasure.
Sleigh Bells’ sonic forays don’t end there, however. As well as being signed to MIA’s N.E.E.T. imprint, the group has gone on to co-produce a track on her album Maya, all the while becoming targets for dance floor-filling remixes themselves, with heavyweight DJs including Diplo and Speak! re-working their tracks.
Sleigh Bells have clearly benefited from having friends in high places. Having shared stages with the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip and Yeasayer, the pair have recently expanded their minimal synthesizer and drum machine set up to include an ambitious arrangement of swirling lights and projections.
“When we’re up onstage, we’re in our element,” Krauss says. “All we want is for the audience to dance and have fun … and for things to be as stimulating and chaotic as possible.”