Treats is, by any reasonable standards of recording fidelity, a horrible-sounding record. Nearly every sound on this debut album by Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells is saturated with distortion. You know how music sounds when you play it on crappy laptop speakers at maximum volume? That’s what every single track on Treats sounds like – at any volume. Opener ‘Tell ‘Em’ arrives with the loudness and suddenness of a drive-by shooting: the jackhammer beats bombard the ears like a machine gun, pausing only for quick blasts of Joe Satriani-style duelling guitars. Elsewhere, a track like ‘Straight A’s’ exists so far in the red, it sounds as if it’s about to collapse into itself like the aural equivalent of a black hole.
Sleigh Bells trade on a wide range of sounds, their only unifying feature being their capacity to grab the attention and annoy the hell out of the listener. Their electronic beats thud with the gut-rattling low end of crunk; Derek Miller’s guitars range from stadium noodling (‘Tell ‘Em’) and death metal thrashing (‘Straight A’s’) to surf rock (‘A/B Machines’). Elsewhere, early ‘90s rave synth sounds crop up on ‘Run The Heart’ and ‘Rachel’. But if all the above screams style over substance, fortunately Sleigh Bells have not misplaced the tunes. Everything here is built around a catchy, simple refrain that’s liable to lodge itself in the listener’s head. There’s even a potential hit single in the form of ‘Rill Rill’. Built around a loping sample from Funkadelic’s ‘Can You Get To That’ and an irresistible sing-song rap, it could become a big summer radio hit along the lines of Len’s 1999 jam ‘Steal My Sunshine’.
Alexis Krauss’s vocals flit easily from hip-hop sass (‘Kids’, ‘Infinity Guitars’) to coquettish cooing (‘Run The Heart’, ‘Rachel’). Her voice isn’t technically astounding, but that’s not a problem: if she relied on histrionics, these eleven songs would be rendered unlistenable. As it is, her sweet tones provide the perfect contrast to the abrasiveness of the music. The album’s brevity (it lasts just thirty-two minutes) is another blessing: if Treats were to last any longer, it would be health-damaging. Unsurprisingly, then, it isn’t for everyone. Even its supporters may find that, on the wrong day and in the wrong frame of mind, it could prove an industrial-strength irritant. But that shouldn’t detract from the fact that Treats is also one of the year’s most thrilling releases.
[Columbia; June 21, 2010]