Sleigh Bells seemed to emerge fully formed, with a brutally unique sound of overblown guitars and vocals that alternated between pop-singer sweetness and cheerleader vengeance. The Brooklyn duo's 2009 debut, "Treats," landed on nearly every single year-end best-of list, including this publication's. For their follow-up, "Reign of Terror," released this spring, guitarist Derek Miller and singer Alexis Krauss decided to do away with some of the tricks of "Treats" in favor of more conventional sounds. But they put these sounds into a context that is anything but conventional.
"In a lot of ways, 'Reign of Terror' is an homage to classic rock and a lot of arena rock songs that are pretty formulaic and pretty universal in terms of structure and what they make you feel," says Krauss. "We were very shameless in referencing bands like Def Leppard or pop acts like Cyndi Lauper or the Go Go's."
Where Krauss was filling in prewritten vocal parts for the debut, the pair collaborated more for "Reign of Terror," and the result is something more melodic. There are even a few ballads on the album. Krauss says she knows that the combination of '80s metal and their own pop and punk instincts have definitely turned off a few listeners. But she has no regrets.
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"We always say that we don't really have any guilty pleasures," she says. "If we listen to something and we like it, we're not embarrassed about referencing it. We're both real lovers of pop music, so I think being able to write a really simple but catchy hook is one of the hardest things to do as a songwriter. And we kind of like thinking that way: 'How can we write a song as good as "Pour Some Sugar on Me"?'"
Out of the red
When Sleigh Bells' first single, "Crown on the Ground," made its initial rounds on the Web, listeners thought there was something wrong with their speakers or earbuds, because Derek Miller's guitar was so maxed out. Krauss said their decision not to employ this technique on "Reign of Terror" was a natural one.
"I think 'Reign of Terror' is much more melodic than 'Treats' was, more of a melancholy tone," she says. "At times the music is even more somber, and it just didn't seem appropriate to have songs where every-thing was pushed comple-tely into the red. There's a lot more dynamic range on the [new] record. A lot of the way 'Treats' was pro-duced was a result of necessity in the sense that a lot of it was recorded using cheaper gear. ... It was much more DIY, and a lot of times we would just turn up."