Reign of Terror: Sleigh Bells review

A pair clad in shredded jeans and retro sunglasses, toting electric guitars, stacks of amps and pedals, and plenty of attitude step onstage. Brace your ears.

Ever since Sleigh Bells’ 2010 debut Treats, the pop-hardcore collaborative team Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller have taken the indie sect by storm. Almost literally. Their amp-exploding, eardrum-bursting sound is bar sonically overwhelming, but after the initial shock, the energy seems to catch feverishly. Coachella Fest bestowed Sleigh Bells a rather substantial slot in the 2011 lineup, and hype for the duo’s future has been well generated to say the least.

February 21, their sophomore album Reign of Terror dropped with the delivery of an ethereal sledgehammer, combining the grunge of metal guitars, the dance rhythms of hip-hop beats, and the dreaminess of 80’s pop. The album intros with a live recording of a crowd-pumping “True Shred Guitar,” as if to hearken to their previous success and taunt listeners to get ready for more. Enter in first single “Born to Lose,” a gut-puncher with staccato guitar riffs backed by haunting vocals. The sass fires up even more with “Crush” as it stomps in with clap-lead beats, Krauss shouting an addictive refrain, “Make you or break you!”

From there on, the album finds itself leaving some of the fist-pumping sassiness and weaving in and out of slower, more methodical jams. At some points, with “You Lost Me” and “Never Say Die,” the slower pace causes the tracks to flounder a bit in their thick sound structure of repeated lines and riffs that lack significant contrast in tones. However, other tracks successfully use the unhurried rates, including “End of the Line” and “Road to Hell,” which channel Cyndi Lauper-esque vibes due to Krauss’ crooning, airy vocals outlined by calculated guitar wails and gunshot drums.

And “Leader of the Pack,” kicked off with a rifle shot, is certainly just as shred-worthy. The methodical pace allows the track to get grungy with heavy layers of distorted effects and grinding guitars, and Krauss’ vocals match the tone as she sings about the death of a loved one: “You know it’s over / Don’t you know / he’s never coming back.”

The direction towards somber lyrics reflects the dark experiences of death in Miller’s family, and this seems to account for the differences in tone between Treats and Reign of Terror. Even so, the lyrics are simplistic if not ambiguous in meaning. Though Krauss can chalk up the melancholy with repetitive lines, “No one loves you / up above / no one hears you / no one sees you” from “End of the Line,” the overall intensity of Sleigh Bells’ sound safely refrains from angsty weepiness, and these tough issues are presented in a this-is-how-life-goes sort of way.

And in response, second single “Comeback Kid” drums up the adrenaline with the anthem of a survivor, energized with infectious guitar chugga-chuggas contrasting sugary vocals. The hardcore peak of the album, “Demons” follows with howling effects before it attacks the listener with feisty chants and raw, crunching guitars to headbang to.

The concluding song, “D.O.A.,” spotlights Krauss’ vocals by providing a downplayed backdrop of distorted guitars and effects. The overall affect is as haunting as the last lines: “Wipe the blood from your nose / how come nobody knows / how the chorus should go / remember who you are.”

Though perhaps not as explosive as Sleigh Bells’ debut, Reign of Terror sure offers plenty of material to blow your speakers out to. Their unique sonic assault with its blend of heavy and light, rough and soft, all shot out with a sassy stare, will keep the indie fans following with ecstatic awe.

We Do What We Want: Emery Review

With an album title like We Do What We Want, it’s hard to keep from caving in to the pressure to make some witty pun.

But I must say…when Emery does what they want, good things happen (I’m sorry, you knew the pun was coming, now let’s get past it).

This time around, let’s just say things got a heavy. Crunchy guitars and howls introduce the gut-puncher “The Cheval Glass,” sounding like a fury of china being flung about and smashed, until croons by lead singer Toby Morell breaks out of the madness. Then somehow the madness blends together with the sane in a rhythmic chorus dashed with screams. All is punctuated by a breakdown with an invitation to headbang. Welcome to post-hardcore.

“Scissors” follows up with machine-gun fire to the face–but just when you’re in the pit about to punch the dude next to you, in comes clean vocals and a steady beat. After an announcement of, “Here comes the breakdown,” a sweet guitar riff leads up to a chorus with dance-worthy beat. Some spooky keyboard work makes an appearance before a snarling wolf pack was brought in to finish it off.

You get my drift?

Oh, and speaking of drift, “The Anchors” continues to emphasize the heavy tone–this time by starting out softly and then building up to a swimming-from-sharks frenzy of Josh Head’s growling meshed with electric guitars and heart-hammering beats.

You probably get it now. Emery’s stepped toward face-melting horizons. What makes the post-hardcore outfit work for them, though, are the efforts put into creating songs that feel more spontaneous than formulaic.

I’ll use  one of my personal favorites, “The Curse of Perfect Days” as my primary evidence. Inspired by a nightmare Morell had of losing his family, it begins softly and thoughtfully, building up to a frenetic verse before being shattered by howls, and then out of nowhere comes a chorus to sing along to. Layered vocals–an Emery specialty–contribute to the next verses, and the last chorus pulls down the tempo for a slow-motion feel before bringing it back to speed in time for an abrupt end, as if you woke up from the dream you were in. And while the song keeps away from any obvious formula, it remains tight-knit and even catchy.

Another unique standout is “Daddy’s Little Peach,” which is written borderline ballad-style. With a minimalistic setup for the verses that lead to powerful choruses, the song tells the story of a young woman struggling with her identity as she falls into the trap of a player.

“Another eight hours and the day’s left you wanting reprieve. / Or at least religion. /But just relax, ’cause everyone’s sinning. / Last night. The drinks. The words./… / Your hair. Your make up. / Your high heels, impeccable. / And all of it just to sit / with some wannabe’s and counterfeits. / How respectable.”

The entire album is lyrically strong, written with honesty, becoming rather spiritual by exploring deep into the matters of when a person makes his or herself their own god. “You Wanted It” is a prime example:

“I created everything here that I wanted to see /So was that your plan, to leave me out? We were all reciting messages and pushing repeat / But this world you made does it let you breathe / Does it let you feel anything but yourself? / … / When was the last time you saw anyone else? /… / The plans you made, you wanted it / The bitter taste, you wanted it / What god became, you wanted it / But the one thing you need you’ll never get.”

Now, this isn’t all to say that We Do What We Want is flawless. “I’m Not Here for Rage, I”m Here for Revenge” is unfortunately screechy, and “Addicted to Bad Decisions” intros with a synth pattern that seems disjointed from the rest of the song, which ultimately moves along fine without it.

The closer of the album, “Fix Me,” is well-written with a stripped-down set and honest lyrics about the need for salvation, but it’s placing in the track listing needs a little help, as I felt it became completely overshadowed by the prior song “I Never Got to See the West Coast.”

That said, “I Never Got to See the West Coast” is a crowning sweet little beauty for We Do What We Want. In regards to someone dealing with suicide, the song is raw with emotion; composed with acoustic guitars, crooning vocals, and somber effects by electric guitar and keys, the lyrics seep in and grab tight to the heart.

As a whole, We Do What We Want pulls together a solid post-hardcore work that will find a crowd of headbangers to welcome in to the Emery family.


Recently Played: Sigur Rós, Between the Trees, and Oh, Sleeper

Music, music, MUSIC, I can’t get over it!!! So I’m gonna give you a little update on what’s been runnin’ through my stereo lately…yes, I said stereo…because playing real CDs in an actual stereo is legit. At least I think so…

First stop, Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust by Sigur Rós–thanks to Ryan Stubbs (guitarist of The Glorious Unseen) for a wonderful recommendation, and thanks to Best Buy for keeping stock of a good product (we shall likely be doing business again).

Dear goodness, is this a beautiful piece of artwork. The driving rhythms and enchanting vocals of “Gobbledigook” summons you to go dance through the woods, while the crooning, soft acoustic guitar and strings of “Góðan Daginn” will have you dreaming a misty morning walk through a meadow. “All Allright,” with a quiet piano, somber brass instruments, and soothing vocals is perfect for those moments meant for staring out the window. I’ve totally used a portion of this album to help me fall asleep. If you’re an ambient rock fan, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have this album in your arsenal.

The second album was a lucky find at The Neighborhood Thrift: a signed copy of Between the Trees’ The Story and the Song. The story is that I hadn’t ever paid much attention to Between The Trees, but I knew I at least liked the song “The Way She Feels,” so I decided to take the $1.99 gamble.

And oh…my…Fender…I fell in love with this CD. Which, of course, means I got my heart broken when I found out that the band had just ended this past winter. It’s just how it goes.

Well-orchestrated electric guitars, drums, bass, and keyboard work paired with Ryan Kirkland’s extraordinary vocals that absolutely burst with emotion create a sweet album of alternative-(dare I say emo?)-pop.  The melodies of “White Lines and Red Lights,” “The Way She Feels,” “Words,” and “Darlin'” have often been caught on my vocal chords.

On a completely different note, Oh, Sleeper has been ripping me up with their most recent album Son of the Morning. If you’ve seen some chick driving a little white car, headbanging to some insane metalcore blasting out the windows, going exactly the speed limit…well…I’m probably that chick.

Son of the Morning is a solid sophomore work. Interestingly, it’s kind of like a metal version of pop–despite Micah Kinard’s gut-wrenching vocals and the breakdowns of electric guitars and pounding double bass drum shouting for you to headbang, you’ll also find yourself singing along somehow.

Standout tracks include “Son of the Morning” and “The Finisher”–two very intense depictions of God’ showdown with Satan–the circle-pit-a-licious “World Without a Sun,” and the haunting and emotional “Reveries of Flight,” a Thrice-esque piece.

Three very different genres, three noteworthy albums–hopefully I was able to catch your interest in at least one of them.

Post-hardcore fans, you’ll just have to wait until later–I bought Emery’s new CD We Do What We Want at the concert, and since it’s a newer item, I’ll be posting a separate review on that nice little shiny circle. Kay? :)