Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
Record Store Day (RSD) has become an audiophile’s Christmas since its inception in 2008, celebrating independently owned record stores with exclusive titles and limited-edition releases from everyone from The Beatles to Arcade Fire.
Two albums in, I’m certain that Sleigh Bells’ distinct brand of girly
noise-pop was assembled in some covert lab so as to make me look as
ridiculous as possible when commuting to work.
This stuff combines all my dirtiest, guilty-pleasure pop secrets into a single, distinct sound with a stylistic aesthetic to match (captured by the awesome bloodstained Keds album art).
In fact, for funsies, why don’t we run through that checklist of cheesy things I love? • ’60s girl-group vocals from a super-hot lady? Yup. • Drippy Rick Springfield synths? Move over, “Jessie’s Girl.” • Shreddy, trumped-up glam guitars? In spades. • Crushing beats humping at a jackhammer pace? Throughout! • Alternating cheerleader chants about burning orphanages with sillier playground-crush pop mush fare? The best ever.
Being in a position where there’s literally no other band on the planet that sounds the way Sleigh Bells does (The Go! Team’s about as close as it gets) I’m tempted to say that as long as there’s a good two or three singles on each album, they can keep running these elements in together as long as they like and still remain critical and pop darlings.
It seems that most have embraced the utter contrivance of combining such disparate elements into a cohesive, catchy sound — trying to imagine guitarist Derek Miller explaining a world where Sleigh Bells occurred by happenstance, while completely fictive, is nothing short of hilarious: “Well, I’d borrowed Big Black’s old drum machine at a time when I’d been really transfixed by the rhythm and meter of songs kids sing while they’re playing jump-rope, when all of a sudden Alexis walked past singing to herself and it just all seemed so organic” — so why fix what’s obviously not broken?
If “Reign of Terror” (which is an awesome name for an album) somehow distinctly improved on “Treats,” I’m not aware of it. Comparing the two is kinda like comparing apples with ... uh ... apples, to be honest. The former’s best chanting comes on “Demons” (“Take it down! Take it down!”) and “Crush” (“Make you! I’ll break you!”), which, while more furious, isn’t as overtly over-the-top as “Treats”’ “Riot Rhythm” (“Don’t stop fighting ... ride the lightning!”). Miller’s guitars sound more likely to have belonged to C.C. DeVille than Brian May at times. Whatever ungodly beat machine they employ is still trying to bash your brain into goop.
As calculated as Miller clearly is, I understand the desire to record an album so similar to their first. If they do want to progress as innovators, Sleigh Bells needs a deeper catalogue of bangers to thrill the hell out of the coked-up kiddos who come to their shows. It’s a shrewd, conservative move that will help solidify a flighty audience that’s obsessed with immediacy without pissing off critics badly. Because really, who’s going to complain about something this badass?
The only track here that seems like it would’ve jived “Treats” is the final one, “D.O.A.,” (and maybe “End of the Line,” which forsakes much of the sweetness “Treats” earned with “Rachel” and “Rill Rill” for Regina George-style meanness) which, with its “cut the wrists” lyric, is clearly about suicide. It’s a dark, letdown finish that’s also pretty dramatic.
Given that they’re a lot of fun, Sleigh Bells are also as convincing a case there is that pop is a genre, its contrivance and pure ecstatic catchiness in no way limited to assembly line-style manufacture by hired record-label guns.