Album review: Sleigh Bells' 'Reign of Terror'
Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells has a lot of nerve titling a song "Leader of the Pack," as it does on its jumbo second album, "Reign of Terror," because it could be perceived as stomping on the memory of the classic 1964 teenage weeper of the same name by the Shangri-Las. It’s a bold incitement, as if either to negate music history or write itself into its narrative. What’s next, Sleigh Bells does a new song called "Ticket to Ride"?
But, then, Sleigh Bells has a lot of nerve, and on "Reign of Terror" that nerve manifests itself as noisy, brash volume. Vocalist Alexis Krauss and guitarist-producer Derek E. Miller, whose debut, "Treats," was one of the most acclaimed records of 2010, have doubled down on big guitar chords, humongous beats and an overall maximalism that suggests some weird collision of arena rock -- the first track, "True Shed Guitar," mimics the screaming-fans opening of a 1970s-era live album a la Foghat or Peter Frampton -- dance music, 1960s pop and the kind of borderless big beat electronic music erupting from all corners of the world.
It’s an infectious recipe, with Krauss’ wisp of a voice serving as the soft and pretty foil to Miller’s aggressive tendencies. Miller’s background is in rock -- he was the guitarist in the Miami metal-core band Poison the Well -- but on "Reign of Terror," he arrives at his destinations from any number of angles. "Road to Hell," for example, merges the hammering hard-beat techno sounds of early Nine Inch Nails and KMFDM with, oddly, a guitar tone that sounds time-traveled from an '80s hair metal band, and Krauss sweetly repeating the title like a mantra.
But bombast doesn’t always solve the problem, and where "Reign of Terror" falters is in its reliance on shock and awe at every turn; few are the tunes that head in surprising mid-song detours or guide us toward unexpected bridges -- basically, anything that isn’t laid out more or less in the opening 32 bars of a song. "Comeback Kid" softens, but then the hammering begins anew, as if to loosen the reins even for a little bit is to suggest some sort of submission. Nuance and volume are tough to pull off, and though "Reign of Terror" at times sacrifices the former for the latter, it’s nevertheless an often thrilling experience.
"Reign of Terror"
(Mom + Pop)
Three stars (out of four)
-- Randall Roberts