One of 2010’s most attention-getting debuts, Sleigh Bells' Treats comes on strong. Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss craft a sound that’s all climax, that sounds like cheap stereos turned up to 11 and boom cars that might actually explode. Nearly all the parts of all the songs on Treats are saturated with distortion that makes them feel even louder than they actually are (which is pretty loud to begin with). Yet their approach is far from lo-fi, and it’s worlds apart from the kind of noise pop that looks back to the halcyon days of four-track recording in the ‘90s. Instead, Sleigh Bells claim whatever sounds loud and shiny for their own: their beats can come from electro, rap, or a drumline; Miller's guitars often sound like they were stolen from stadium rock; and cheaply sampled sounds that could have come from toy instruments pop up more often than not. On top of all these blaring and blurring sounds is Krauss' unaffected, ultra-girly voice, which acts as the frosting on Treats, sweetening it and holding it all together. It’s an approach that’s as powerful as it is unlikely -- her voice could be too saccharine in another setting, and the music could be contrived and too abrasive without her presence. Sleigh Bells have got their formula down and they stick to it throughout Treats, to often stunning effect. Nearly every track here sounds like an event. “Riot Rhythm” is stark and driven by a drumline rhythm; “Crown on the Ground” sounds like a cheerleader chant backed by a sound system; and “A/B Machines,” with its surfy guitars and siren-like synth drills, could be a Chemical Brothers song covered by No Age and what nu-rave should have sounded like. The fondness and flair Sleigh Bells show for recontextualizing and reconfiguring on songs like this and “Straight A’s,” which throws some metal guitar into the mix, make it easy to hear why M.I.A. signed the band to her label (and “Rill Rill,” which samples Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That,” echoes her own surprise hit “Paper Planes”). On quieter songs like “Rachel” and the soulful “Run the Heart,” Miller and Krauss switch up their approach a bit, allowing her vocals to be the focus of the songs rather than a decoration. Given that Sleigh Bells' sound is so big -- and undeniably exciting -- songwriting falls lower on the band’s list of priorities than taking all the dramatic moments from everyone’s favorite songs and turning them into songs in their own right. That doesn’t stop Treats from having a boldness, immediacy, and sense of fun that’s missing from too much other music.
by Heather Phares