Sleigh Bells’ sophomore effort falls flat

Sleigh Bells’ sophomore album is a Reign of Terror in and of itself.

If you are the kind of person who is interested in repetition — the same heavy riffs, the same vocal stylings, the same depressingly vapid tunes — then Sleigh Bells’ newest album is right up your alley.

Hip sound · Sleigh Bells is composed of Derek E. Miller (left) and Alexis Krauss (right). The duo has garnered accolades for their blend of noise and power pop, especially on its 2010 studio debut album Treats. - Photo courtesy of Patrick Odell

Though the apocalyptic theme of the album suits the style of music that Sleigh Bells has created, the record is executed in such a strange way that it’s hard to praise the album for much of anything at all. Fans of Treats, be warned: Reign of Terror drowns out all the fun and excitement of the noise-pop fans grew to love on the first record and replaces it with a bland, incoherent disarray of noise.

A few tracks on the album are reminiscent of bands gone bad. “D.O.A.” plays like a depressed pop cover of a Rage Against the Machine song; similarly, “Road to Hell” brings about visions of Britney Spears from the Blackout sessions gone bad.

But before you cross Reign of Terror off of the iTunes wish list, there are a few impressive things to note about this album.

“Born to Lose,” the first single of the album, welcomes back that juxtaposition of lead singer Alexis Krauss’ airy vocals against the crazy hard riffs that make Sleigh Bells’ music such an intriguing specimen in the first place.

Even here, the track immediately initiates a change in sound from Treats. That candy-like effervescence is gone and the thrill factor of hearing Sleigh Bells’ unique sound seems to have lost some of its appeal.

The band also gives its listeners a taste of a new noise-pop opus: the stadium sing-along anthem with “Crush.” Thankfully, the song sounds more like something off of Treats. Yes, there are repetitive lyrics and chords, but it brings back the life and fun that Sleigh Bells so effortlessly created on their first album.

The final two genuinely intriguing songs on Reign of Terror come in the middle of the album. “Comeback Kid,” the standout track of the album, packs that good ol’ Sleigh Bells punch and vigor. The single exudes pop-starlet sass mixed with grunge-rock swagger. The track is catchy, anthemic and motivational — all the elements for a rocking pop tune.

“Demons” creeps onto the scene with ghastly wails and hard-horror pop angst; the tune sounds like its being belted out by a demonic cheer squad, Jennifer’s Body -style. The octave progression on the repetition of “Take it down / Take it down” is utterly amazing, and the chorus makes you want to go ghostbusting.

But then there’s the rest of the album, which is lifeless and almost impossible to listen to.

It’s obvious that the band is trying to “mature,” as all bands feel they must, with more explicit and philosophical content to show their progression as artists. But there’s maturing because it’s the natural order of things, and then there’s maturing for the sake of maturing.

It’s regretful to say that Sleigh Bells is the kind of band that should stick to what it’s good at doing.

Tracks such as “End of the Line” and “Leader of the Pack” fall short of the mark. The lyrics are blunt and uninteresting, and the production is detrimentally subdued. At times, it sounds like the band is trying to capture some romanticized version of noise pop with harmonic strings and orchestral music.

It’s difficult to hold a band to certain standards because individual taste matters so much. But when Sleigh Bells pulls a 180 and changes its entire sound, there’s reason to start crying out for the old.

The duo has taken its mindless, rock/pop jams and attempted to inject them with startling lyrical content. The end result is a mess: There are a couple of songs that progress the brilliance found on Treats, but the remaining tracks come off as failed attempts at artistry.

Sleigh Bells seemed to have it figured out on their first album. Its follow-up could have been an amped up vocal/guitar affair poised to break the boundaries of noise pop. Instead, Reign of Terror plays like a broken record: repetitive and harsh to listen to.

It seems a few tracks — and those bloody shoes on the album cover — are all that’s left of those Treats cheerleaders who brought so much joy just two years ago.