Album review: Sleigh Bells' 'Treats'
How unusual is it when one of the year's most difficult records is also its most flagrantly pleasurable? The debut from the Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells is a mess of warring impulses — they want to simultaneously detonate the precision-cut production of pop-rap and rock production, while also abiding by all its basic rules.
Imagine a forgotten late-'90s radio rap and a Van Halen cassingle hooking up in a dollar bin, breeding something unprecedented, uninhibited and kind of unholy. It might be the most apropos record for the genre-addled millennial mind yet created.
The first obstacle, however, is that clipping. A warning for audiophiles — “Treats” doesn't sound bad in the way that lo-fi, no-budget demos sound. It sounds bad in a way that suggests Rick Rubin fell asleep on a hundred-grand mixing board and pushed every fader to “11.” Literally every sound on “Treats” is compressed and gained up to breaking. If you hear it on cheap ear buds, it's not just gnarled — it borders on unlistenable.
But if heard, say, in the dank bathroom of a terrible East Hollywood bar or over a crushing club P.A., it begins to make sense.
This is music crafted with such boundless energy that technology is still catching up to it. “A/B Machines” strangles Alexis Krauss' single nonsense lyric for 31/2 minutes of dumb-as-a-brick air-horn riffage and freestyle drums so processed they're practically corn syrup (this is a compliment). “Infinity Guitars” imagines what would happen if, instead of Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa went with AC/DC as his source material for inventing rap.
A few moments of clarity do surface. “Run the Heart” shoves the wounded sass of Aaliyah and Destiny's Child through a no-wave rave filter, and lyrics like “I want to know what's good for you” come off both as come-ons and true confusion. But “Treats” works as a kind of Anti-Tune to today's dominant Auto-Tune. It's filthy, audibly painful and it makes every wrong decision imaginable in the course of producing an album. It might also be the most delirious, joyful and defining album of 2010.
— August Brown
N.E.E.T. / Mom & Pop
Three stars (Out of four)
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