It’s impossible to tell who’s doing whom the bigger favor in Sleigh Bells. On stage, singer Alexis Krauss clearly gets a massive cathartic jones out screaming to be heard over Derek Miller’s crushing riffs and thudding digital beats. “I just push myself to this extreme of chaos and channel all this weirdness,” she says. “There’s no gray area.” On record, the relationship is reversed, Miller achieving another level of holy-shititude as Krauss’ alternately purring and wailing sex kitten routine is given sonic equality with his primitive noise. “One way to be extremely heavy without being macho and caveman-esque is to have a female presence,” he says, almost clinically. Whoever’s in charge, it’s clear they’re not letting the other one know.
In 2004, Miller quit playing guitar in cult hardcore band Poison the Well and embarked on a spiritual sojourn. Disoriented and eager to unhitch himself, he started wandering from his hometown of Jupiter, Florida, toward the West Coast, teaching himself to program beats on a drum machine along the way in the absence of a band. He kept writing ferocious songs but found them breaking away from the past. “Hardcore is so insular, you just can’t fucking budge, you can’t move. It’s really annoying and very suffocating,” he says. “I was sick of people just beating the shit out of each other every night. They keep you in a cage, creatively, where you can’t do anything.”
After four years of drifting, he brought his new songs back east and settled in Brooklyn to find the missing piece. “I was writing melodies in a higher register,” he says, “so I always needed a girl vocalist to offset the confrontational qualities in the music.” Krauss dragged Miller’s knuckles off the ground after meeting him in the Williamsburg restaurant where he waited tables. Once the lead in girl-pop band RubyBlue, she’d been teaching high school and singing at corporate events to satisfy her creative needs, but when she met Miller, “we both kind of felt it was an opportunity again to do something our own way.”
With Treats, Sleigh Bells’ debut album, they have done just that. Miller channels every violent and confrontational aspect of his past into beer-spraying, ashtray-spilling, sloppy-hugging blasts of mayhem, and Krauss sounds like a cheerleader on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It sounds like no other record of the last few mellow years, and it will surely have its grumpy detractors. “I just did a total 180 and said, Fuck this,” Miller says. “It sounds different. It sounds really crunchy and weird.” Which is why it will also have its fervent support. For every nerd worried about whether it’s good or not, there will be ten nerds just dying to party.
Stream: Sleigh Bells, Treats