Sleigh Bells. I don’t get it.
I mean, I would love to own a pair of the percussives. What I’m talking about is the suddenly uber-popular new noise band who use the name facetiously.
This past week they performed on SNL, graced the cover of SPIN and grabbed four stars from Rolling Stone (a mag I love – a rating system I trust less than the one NBC used to deem Jay Leno still funny).
Here’s an anecdote: at one time in college I was trying to start a band with a kid named Brian “Wilson” Nelson. He came over to the house to jam – two guitars and a bass. Right off Jay and I careened into the loudest E blues we could navigate and Brian – who still lived with his parents – stopped us to say, “Do you guys always turn it all the way up?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Because why not?”
What followed was a 30 minute epic blues jam that gathered a crowd downstairs.
Needless to say – I’m not afraid of noise. But Sleigh Bells’ sound is completely unharnessed.
Vocals: Alexis Krauss may have a good voice. I don’t know because in this band it’s mostly hidden. What does come out from behind the guitars is weak and monotone.
Guitar: Derek Miller’s unwavering shredding has little discernible rhythm. He is not talented enough to be the sole sound provider playing live, and I don’t see him doing much more in the studio (there’s usually a drum loop tossed-in as if that now makes the noise a song).
I get that they’re going for chaotic ambiance… but it’s not interesting, it’s not exciting or relaxing, it’s not anything. It’s one chord progression and a turn of phrase that get boring by the end of the tune.
Looking around, they have one decent song in “Comeback Kid.” The monotone works because she’s half-rapping and the song actually stops grinding to employ dreamy keys for the chorus and bullet drums in-between. But that’s as interesting as they get, and even here you see the flaws. (These vids, btw, are the best of them. They sounded awful live on SNL.)
If you find yourself being pulled into this Sleigh Bells nonsense, I implore you to dig back and check out the catalog of another raging singer-guitar combo (though this band happily adds a competent human drummer) called Yeah Yeah Yeahs (be sure to turn this up loud)…
ABOVE: "Way Out" from the 2006 album Show Your Bones (highly recommended).
BELOW: "Date With the Night" from the 2003 album Fever to Tell (highly recommended for punks).
Voice: Karen O. has an insanely distinct voice – like a snarling punk teen who grew up too fast and doesn’t give a shit except she’ll take your stupid love if she wants (and your manhood with it).
Guitar: Nick Zinner... I don’t know how he writes songs. They are such cacophonies of rhythm and melody and brazen effects you can hardly air-guitar to the stuff. But it makes fluid sense behind the moving lyrics. His plucked electric melodies ripping into crescendo hit way harder than an eternity of grinding. Those sweet, controlled bursts of madness in between the driving chords have stunning effect.
AND A DRUM!: Brian Chase doesn’t just follow – beat after beat, stop after stop, Brian uses giant sticks to pop the cue to headbang and then drive an endless, running beat until you jump and shake like you're 17 again.
A loud, talented drummer is a necessary luxury in a band where only two people play instruments (unless you’re Jack White. But even he ditched Meg eventually).
The example I always give is Local H. Scott Lucas’ gritty voice wailed over his guitar/bass grind (provided by playing through both kinds of amps), and, stripped down to acoustic, his great songwriting works by itself.
But turned up, he can't do it alone -- you always find him playing in front of a huge kit navigated by a drummer unafraid of any cymbal known to man. This grind and crash style roared out of Zion, IL and across the country. Lucas is still a career musician with the following he earned from that band (seeing them in Chicago was one of the hardest mosh pits I’ve ever jumped in).
There’s a rule when it comes two or three person bands: every player MUST expel more force than the average human/amp combo can provide.
Force = Volume + x ... (x is that something extra…
Not everybody has it.)