CMU Artists Of The Year 2010 – #10: Sleigh Bells

They may be at number ten in our run down, but Sleigh Bells are possibly the band that “of the year 2010” most applies to.

The duo formed in 2008 when former Poison The Well guitarist Derek Miller met one-time member of short-lived teen-pop group RubyBlue, Alexis Krauss, who was by then a primary school teacher. He was a waiter in a restaurant where she was eating with her mother. He happened to mention that he was looking for a female vocalist for some tracks he was working on, and her mother instantly volunteered her. It sounds like the basis for a Human League song.

Mama Krauss’ matchmaking complete, the duo got to work on their industrial pop sound. Not dissimilar in a number of ways to experimental hip hop duo Dälek, Miller creates tracks with everything pushed into the red. Distorted hip hop beats underpin piercing, scratchy guitars, biting synths and heavy, heavy basslines. Krauss’ vocals then spring out clean and sweet-sounding from this angry concoction.

By 2009, this sound had not only pricked up the ears of several bloggers, but also MIA, who first asked Miller to co-write and produce a track on her ‘/\/\/\Y/\’ album, ‘Meds And Feds’, before signing Sleigh Bells to her NEET Recordings label. The band’s debut album, ‘Treats’, was then released in the UK via a partnership with Sony’s Columbia in June this year.

From the opening track, ‘Tell Em’, it’s an almost unrelenting barrage of noise. The only time they let up is for the acoustic guitar-led ‘Rill Rill’, though this is quickly followed by the album’s two harshest tracks, ‘Crown On The Ground’ and ‘Straight A’s’. But the noise is no turn off. The fact that the music is so loud and so heavily compressed just makes it more exciting to listen to; Krauss’ vocals beckon you in before Miller boots you into the air.

Live they’re a force to be reckoned with, too. Standing in front of a wall of Marshall Stack amps, and with all but Miller’s guitar on backing track, Krauss’ pop training really comes out. She works the stage and the crowd like she’s playing to a bunch of screaming teenagers, which only highlights further the juxtapositions in Sleigh Bells’ songs, making you feel like you’re watching some kind of zombie pop group.

As I said at the start, Sleigh Bells may be the most “of 2010” act in our round-up of the year. Their music is so immediate and so sudden in its approach that it’s hard to think beyond the now and into the future. But they’ve kept us highly entertained all year, and ‘Treats’ is an album that will continue to find its way onto the CMU stereo on into 2011, thanks to its mix of bone-shuddering wake up call and unadulterated fun.

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