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To paraphrase film critic Roger Ebert, I hated hated hated this album. On ‘Reign Of Terror’, Brooklyn noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells have put together a collection of tracks that epitomises near-complete failure. Not one musical idea succeeds, not one song entertains, and not one hook from frontwoman Alexis Krauss spares the listener from an onslaught of splintery unpleasantness across their eardrums. Most perplexing of all is the duo’s notion that cookie cutter guitar riffs and droll, substanceless girl-pop can lay clumsily disguised beneath an aural assault of reverb, overdrive and obnoxiously loud distortion and be considered “groundbreaking” and “artistic”. As I once told a small child who tried to build a plane out of paddlepop sticks, this shit will not fly.
Don’t get me wrong though, because I am far from automatically bias towards Sleigh Bells. Whilst its outstanding moments did seem to come in drips and drabs, the band’s 2010 debut ‘Treats’ was a mostly entertaining album, bringing the conventions of female-fronted pop music to near-inaudible extremes. Its gritty, lo-fi production values and monstrous guitar chords had a tendency to explode in the mix without warning, and though the impact was extremely effective, the uninhibited mess of it all often left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Unfortunately, ‘Reign Of Terror’ wastes no time reminding me of this, introducing a collage of seemingly random, metallic guitar phrases that crash bluntly against a thudding, syncopated drum machine beat on opener ‘True Shred Guitar’. Despite being commendably loud, it lacks any sense of real power or bombastic style, leaving the track stranded in an ocean of noise that is devoid of substance.
However, the duo is smart enough to realise that they are not the new kids on the block that they were two years ago, and go to considerable lengths to let the gimmicky, noise-soaked stupor of the opening track fall by the wayside for the remainder of the album. The result is an LP that is given a shinier polish and a higher fidelity than its predecessor, and on the surface, this should dictate that ‘Reign Of Terror’ is a superior and more palatable listening experience. What renders this impossible is that Sleigh Bells have abandoned what made their debut so infectious and accessible in the first place. The bouncy breakbeats and punchy, memorable vocal hooks of ‘Riot Rhythm’ have been torn out and replaced by shrill, torturously-spliced pop melodies, crushed flat beneath a wall of reverb and other effects on the track ‘Born To Lose’. The danceable, rap-inspired simplicity that made tracks like ‘Infinity Guitars’ so irresistably catchy is lost on ‘Never Say Die’, which bogs itself down with endless layers of synth, vocal and guitar lines that fail to lift the bland monotone of the album.
Monotone really is the word of choice here, because despite throwing a lot of pop conventions at me, particularly on tracks like ‘Comeback Kid’ and ‘End Of The Line’, I didn’t walk away from this album with any meaning or musical ideas that were worth holding on to. ‘Comeback Kid’ puts forward a decent effort to impress, but Krauss’ vocal style shoots its appeal in the kneecaps by placing far too much reliance on studio effects. Her voice becomes pitched and skewed to the point of sounding tinny and robotic, transforming what could have been a memorable hook into an annoying jingle. Though some may attack Krauss for her largely meaningless lyrical content (ironic, considering she was a teacher before the project), this was never a problem on ‘Treats’ because it fit perfectly within the context of the album. It was simple, mindless, loud, and accessible enough that a large variety of people could listen to it and enjoy themselves. I didn’t have fun with ‘Reign Of Terror’, and I can’t see how anyone could.
If you ever wanted to waste forty minutes of your life in the most mindless and irritating way possible, here is the opportunity of a lifetime. After making considerable waves in the music industry with their debut LP ‘Treats’, Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells have returned with an album that sucks all that was fun and memorable from the band’s music, leaving behind a shambolic mess of pop melodies, reverb and distortion.
1. True Shred Guitar
2. Born To Lose
4. End Of The Line
5. Leader Of The Pack
6. Comeback Kid
8. Road To Hell
9. You Lost Me
10. Never Say Die