Sleigh Bells ring, are you listening?
Treats, the debut effort from noise-rock newcomers Sleigh Bells, is the logical conclusion of the loudness war; it manages to challenge basic assumptions of how music can (and should) sound.
You either buy the Brookyln duo’s central conceit or you don’t: bombastic synth-rock for bombast’s sake, with mixing cranked so high your speakers sound like they’re about to combust. It’s a preposterous juxtposition—Alexis Krauss’ way-past-sweet vocals as the sugary glaze on Derek Miller’s gritty and serrated riffing and beats—until the soaring power chords of opener and single “Tell ‘Em” kick off the album with a thunderclap, and you barrel through a 32-minute sonic rollercoaster that’s totally, gloriously, devoid of subtlety and restraint.
“Tell ‘Em” is a fantastic piece of pop, a tightly-wound dash down a cyberpunk Sunset Strip, and it’s only the first volley in Treats’ damn-the-torpedoes push towards sensory overload. Demo cut “Beach Girls” gets reworked here as “Kids,” a reverb-heavy rave-up that bleeds into “Riot Rhythm,” where martial drums crisscross with hair-metal guitar squeal as Krauss plays fast and loose with bratty, sing-song vocals. The steady-rocking crawl of “Infinity Guitars” makes the jump from Demo as well, seemingly unchanged until the final moments of the song, where the melody erupts into a shatteringly loud catharsis of sleigh bells, bass beats and searing riffs—the kind of album highlight that sends your earbuds flying when you unexpectedly start headbanging.
“Rill Rill” (demo “Ring Ring” with a touch of studio polish) is the sole track where the BPM get taken down a few notches; a crisp and breezy—almost knowingly subdued—morsel of guitar jangle that bobs like a buoy in the album’s neon seas, distortion still lurking at the periphery. And then Treats screams through its last third with the off-kilter slamdance of “Crown on the Ground,” the grindcore-via-glitch-rock (glitchcore?) snarl of “Straight A’s,” and “A/B Machines,” a shambling and rollicking tune with a guitar line cribbed from “Miserlou” and a sliding synth that sounds like a table saw. The titular closer blows kisses to Morrissey and Brian May before sludge metal riffs drop like SCUD missiles and explode into a hurricane of sound, ending the album as abruptly as it began.
Treats is engrossing, and urgent; Krauss and Miller toy with noise and listener expectations with Reznor-esque glee. But obsessing over the album as a technical triumph (though it certainly is) mostly misses the point, because its greatest success is how effortlessly it taps into the intangible: Treats is just a whole goddamn lot of fun to listen to. It’s a supremely raw and visceral pop masterwork, one appropriate to rocking out with headphones on, windows-down bumping on car stereos, four-A.M. warehouse dance parties and countless other summer moments that’ll soon have soundtracks courtesy of Sleigh Bells.
[Listen to Treats in full, currently streaming on NPR’s “First Listen”]