Sleigh Bells arrived fully formed with blunt rock riffs, crunk beats, and airy, feminine vocals. Their debut, Treats, may be the first record to fetishize the negative consequences of the Loudness War, with guitarist and producer Derek E. Miller pushing an already bombastic sound to absurd extremes by deliberately narrowing the music’s dynamic range to the point of clipping even at moderate volumes. Treats owes its greatness to its simple, direct hooks, but the band’s overly hot recordings were also thrilling in that they tapped into our positive associations with cranking stereos up to the maximum volume because we loved what we were hearing.

Sleigh Bells’ second album, Reign of Terror, is plenty loud, but it doesn’t rely on this volume trick. Instead, the duo emphasizes the delicate elements of their sound that mostly got crowded out in the midrange of Treats‘ speaker-melting din. Alexis Krauss, the former teen-pop singer turned punk-rock badass, is foregrounded throughout the record, and her roots in Clinton-era bubblegum are more fully integrated with Miller’s heavy riffing. The beats are less indebted to hip-hop this time around and the guitar parts have gone full-on metal, alternating between elemental AC/DC-like hooks and late-80s harmonics.

Reign of Terror is a brash, hyperactive set of songs, but Miller and Krauss’ synthesis of disparate strands is exceptionally graceful, with traditionally macho and girly sounds flowing together seamlessly in dynamic, often ecstatic pop tunes. They refine their take on girl-group pop and cheerleader chants on “Leader of the Pack” and “Crush”, and set shoegazer swooning to machine-gun drum fills on “Born to Lose”. More impressively, Krauss’ melodies somersault over Miller’s waves of alt-rock buzz guitar and colorful keyboards on “Comeback Kid”, and they fully commit to the gentle, sentimental melodies of “End of the Line” without compromising their noisy aesthetic. “You Lost Me”, one of three consecutive songs that lean hard on metal harmonics at the end of the set, is straight-up gorgeous, with layers of clean notes, slow-motion drones, and breathy coos building to a headbanging catharsis.Pitchfork


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