May 5, 2010

Sleigh Bells in Springtime: A Visceral Treat

By G. Murray

Spark Contemporary Art Space
Syracuse, NY
April 8, 2010

Sleigh Bells are a Brooklyn-based duo for those who like to move.  To the unacquainted, their music harkens back to high school: beats that sound like a pep rally gone awry, lyrics about braces, and near constant breakdowns that remind one of hardcore’s heyday.  Add some liquor stolen from my parents and a late-night Denny’s scuffle, and I’m back in 11th grade again, in the good way.

This nostalgia isn’t completely imagined, though.  Derek Miller, guitarist and total babe, once played for the semi-seminal post-hardcore band Poison the Well.  Like many of us hardcore kids of yore, Miller eventually became disillusioned with the stoic scene and all its tough-guy, straightedge glory.  As Miller stated in an impromptu interview before the show (read: we cornered him on the way to the bathroom) in regard to his retirement from the hardcore/edge lifestyle “I saw the light,” while holding up a can of Labatt Blue Light.  What Miller brings from his storied past lends a unique element to what might otherwise be poppy inane girlvocals: serious distortion, calculated breakdowns and wailing, siren-like guitars.

Speaking of sirens, Alexis Krauss, vocalist and total babe #2 of the duo, came to the band with little pretense, lots of spandex, and an amazing haircut.  Serving as the pretty spokeswoman for mastermind-behind-the-curtain Miller, Krauss layers the perfect amount of crude sweetness over Miller’s often hard and always loud beats, creating the seductive grittiness that is Sleigh Bells.  After garnering a decent amount of recognition via MySpace this past fall (yes, MySpace still exists), Sleigh Bells were quickly picked up by M.I.A.’s own label, N.E.E.T., and will be releasing their first album in May, with what I hope is an apt title: Treats

The tattooed demi-goddess danced, sang, and sweat her way into all of our hearts in the tiny, intimate and awesome venue of Spark.  Essentially a gallery, the show was held in a long, narrow room with high ceilings.  The old building, superfriendly crowd, and completely lax -- if not nonexistant -- booze policy (i.e. bring your own glass bottles and swig from them on the dancefloor) made for a dreamlike show.  Having no real “stage” to speak of, Krauss jumped around and danced on every available surface, from amps to chairs to the obsolete radiators lining the walls, while Miller austerely held the reigns.  The Bells quickly burned through the few songs that the crowd was acquainted with and moved onto some promising new tracks from the upcoming album.  The audience responded in a way that you’d expect at a hardcore-influenced neopop show: they moved, and hard.  The short set was rounded out by the band’s song “Ring Ring,” in which Miller’s focus shifted from guitar to the wheels of steel, sampling Funkadelic’s “Can You Get To That” with Krauss sweetly singing about the perils of being uncool in highschool.  After the show, the crowd’s inertia was too great to stop moving.  The audience thinned out somewhat, but the show’s organizers thankfully had the foresight to bring in a DJ for a dance party that, after the sheer energy and sweat of Sleigh Bells, felt like live music’s answer to the postcoital cigarette.  In the true nature of copulatory lock, I definitely envision being stuck on Sleigh Bells for a long time to come.