Concert review: Sleigh Bells

VIENNA, Va., April, 3, 2012—When Sleigh Bells showed to perform at the 9:30 Club, it almost seemed like they didn’t need to be on stage.  The sight of Sleigh Bells was skewed by an overwhelming light showing from behind the band added by a raucous crowd who refused to stay still for the entire show.  For most the show Alexis Krauss was merely a silhouette against the purple backlighting.

Sleigh Bells might occasionally be grouped with the growing electro-pop scene, and there are some similarities, but it’s not quite accurate.  Krauss fits the mold of the electro-pop but the sound Derek Miller has developed for the band veers towards a more guitar heavy sound giving the band less of a machine generated sound.  The buzz surrounding the band is usually what gives them that feel.

Recently, Sleigh Bells has been gaining more wide spread attention, but not all of it good.  In the last year, they made an appearance on SNL which was not well received.  This was the first exposure many people older than about 25 had to Sleigh Bells.  It was almost clichéd that they wouldn’t take kindly to the band’s style.  They aren’t the demographic Sleigh Bells appeals to in the least.

Sleigh Bells is the kind of band that definitely skews towards a younger crowd and particularly the late teens/early 20s group.  Anyone who feels that popular music has passed them by, would most definitely be looking at Sleigh Bells when they make that accusation.  This is a band that speaks to youthful cynicism and anyone outside that box is going to have a hard time wrapping their minds around Sleigh Bells, much less understanding them.

This band is not for the weak of heart.  On their recorded material, the bass seems to be turned up to 11.  Somehow during their live shows, the bass is turned up even more, perpetuating a constant thump throughout their entire set.  Aside from Krauss’s vocals and the persistent strobe effect, it was the most consistent sensation of the entire show.

What Krauss and Miller have created with Sleigh Bells is almost noise-pop avant garde, which is a weird to say about anything as inherently esoteric a genre as noise-pop but concentrating on the pop side of the equation will have that effect.  The soundscape the two have created is decidedly different than most other noise-pop acts, and a lot of which centers around Krauss’ singing and pure pop background.

It’s not to say Sleigh Bells anything resembling a typical noise rock band.  Miller’s creative enough with the compositions to not just be a wall of noise, but with Krauss’ soft vocals, it gives them band something of an edge over their contemporaries and allows them to access avenues not normally open to likeminded groups.

Granted, the guitar work Miller uses has just as much of a point to it rather than just nonsensical riffing.  Instead of devolving into just pure noise like so many bands, Miller plays up a sound not too dissimilar from what he did in Poison the Well, albeit stripped down.  They’re simple riffs played to great effect.  There’s something almost nihilistic to the way Sleigh Bells approach pop music.  They take away everything that people associate with pop music, and possibly like about pop music, and turn into something apparently resembling nothing.

This essentially sums Sleigh Bells and their approach to music and their live show.  There are so many different aspects to the band that they feel more complicated than they actually are.  All of those moving parts — Krauss’ vocals, the bass and backbeat, the lights, Miller’s riffing — are all boiled down to their most simplistic levels and presented in a singular package.  With that many aspects it’s hard to recognize how they’re trying to down play the difficulty.  Ultimately a younger crowd is going to respond to that notion more positively than an older audience.

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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