Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Sleigh Bells – Infinity Guitars

Somehow, this manages to be our highest scorer today. Don’t ask me how…


Anthony Easton: I just don’t understand the love of the Sleigh Bells among my tumbling brethren.

Rebecca Toennessen: Straight-up fun with snotty, bratty lyrics over bare bones rock. This is the right side of catchy and best listened to loud. More please.

Mallory O’Donnell: Taking a page from buddy M.I.A., Sleigh Bells use pointless abrasion to cover up the fact that no actual musical event will occur during the course of your listening experience. The difference is it took her two albums to run out of ideas – it only took these wangs one song.

Kat Stevens:How’s your mother/not well thank you/died in the chip shop/LAST NIGHT/What did she die of?/RAW FISH/Where did it come from?/YOUR DISH/How did she die?/LIKE THIS [cue dramatic collapse to the floor clutching throat]” My sister and I decided that the standard three-stroke clapping song needed updating via means of some incisive political satire on the consequences of high-intensity farming, EEC food subsidies and the aftermath of Thatcherism (possibly). We changed ‘chip shop’ to ‘Sainsbury’s’, ‘raw fish/your dish’ to ‘salmonella/your paella’ and ‘like this’ to a triumphant ‘IN A SHOPPING TROLLEY!‘. This last flourish was yelled at the top of our voices, and the sudden change in volume discombobulated our poor mother enough for the routine to be quickly banned indoors (this might seem extreme, but remember we had just acted out a premonition of her fatal collapse in a crowded supermarket). I doubt she would have approved of “Infinity Guitars” either, but it’s just as much fun.

Asher Steinberg: Not to spew reams of intentionally fallacious crap onto your screens, but I think Ms. Krauss’s formative experiences in a teenpop group play a major explanatory role here. As in, Sleigh Bells is supposed to be the “truth” that she was repressed from singing in her F-list Mickey Mouse Club. But as is usually the case, the truth ends up being a lot less interesting than its repression. Confusing matters, they also want to be ironic and abstract and “cleverly” make all their songs sound like high school football cheers and douse everything in an eponymous infinitude of ever-so-neatly distorted guitars. The end result is a muddled mess with about a millionth as much emotional truth about adolescence as, say, Britney Spears’s “Lucky”, which isn’t even about adolescence. Musically, there’s a ton of noise, but it’s not really very angry or galvanizing; it just kind of sits there in your throat, like an avant-garde matzoh ball. And then there are the words. I primarily listen to rap and Taylor Swift so I like narrative, but certainly the collage approach to lyrics can work. But you can’t be so damn schematic about it. “Dumb whores, best friends” — acceptable, although even there I can’t get over the feeling that this isn’t someone who still gives a damn about the days when she got all angsty about such things. But “cowboys, Indians”? It reminds me of my favorite line of Henry James’s, when Hugh Walpole accused him of making a statement to some effect in The Ambassadors, to which James famously replied, ‘How can you say I do anything so foul and abject as to “state”?’ (Somewhat ironically given that whole “live, live!” speech that gets put in Strether’s mouth, but the rest of the book certainly lives up to James’s oblique hopes.) Statement = a foul and abject thing, and it doesn’t get much fouler and abjecter than “cowboys, Indians!”

Josh Langhoff: Few bands have depicted childhood dementia with the precision of Sleigh Bells. They’re way too loud, but they aim only to please — after all, the album’s called Treats, not Violent Dispatches From the Sawmill, which is what it sometimes sounds like. For “Infinity Guitars” Alexis Krauss invents a playground taunt to separate the dumb whores from the best friends, the cowboys from the Indians, and she gets off on pretending it’s a street war. As with several other songs on Treats, Derek Miller provides actual sleigh bells and no real chord changes, though they’re sort of implied in his riffs. For two minutes the only bass is an extra-resonant kick drum. There’s nothing here we haven’t heard before, but Miller cunningly blocks out each simple element to create a sound all their own. Can’t wait for the Kidz Bop version.

Jonathan Bogart: Begs for a mashup with “Rap-O Clap-O.”

Chuck Eddy: Belfry bells at the start recall “Beat It.” Fuzzy rock riff recalls “You Really Got Me.” Beats with mud on their face kicking their can all over the place recall “We Will Rock You.” Chanting recalls….Le Tigre? I dunno; I never realy liked Le Tigre much. And the other stuff doesn’t really recall those songs above as much as I implied. Actually, in total, I think this song reminds me of the Breeders’ “Cannonball” more than anything else. Which, come to think of it, is what Sleigh Bells’ “Tell ‘Em” reminded me of when we reviewed it here last July! Interesting. Not a bad thing for an indie band to remind me of, I suppose. But maybe “Cannonball” turned into its own genre when I wasn’t looking. And the genre is getting old.

Andrew Casillas: LOUD NOISES!!!!!!!!!! (/Brick Tamland’d)

Iain Mew: This has a fantastically descriptive title, but only when it comes to the thrilling, compressed ear assault of its climax and that’s really the only mode that Sleigh Bells start making sense in generally.

Pete Baran: You use the infinity word with caution around me. And this song does nothing to conjure up the infinite to me, except the drab infinity of sub par lo-fi indie bands who have probably heard Sleigh Bells and thought “I could do that”. Well, you can. Please don’t.

Martin Skidmore: She sounds a bit less overwhelmed by the backing here, which carries more space than the last one we covered. It does get fuller after a while, a wall of noise, apparently filtered in parts. I am still on the fence about them, but I am perhaps more optimistic about loving something at some point.

Zach Lyon: I am going to just say “I don’t know why they chose this as their next single.” That should let you know that I am firmly in the pro-Sleigh Bells party but I’m not going to give it a defensive [10] out of politics. Though I would’ve probably given one to “Tell ‘Em”. I’ll say this: “Infinity Guitars” is admirable in that the final act totally justifies sitting through the first minute and fifty seconds of flaccidity. And it’s still good.

David Katz: Okay, it’s really well produced with its grainy power chords and trunk rattling percussion, and that dynamic shift towards the end is pretty bracing. But submitted to any kind of repeated exposure or careful listening, the slightness of the composition is laid bare. Not a great single-choice either – the song works best in sequence, pushing Treats through the noise barrier and beyond.

Alex Ostroff: Sleigh Bells have done better. This is neither as effortlessly pretty as “Rill Rill” nor as insistently, gloriously, triumphantly raucous as “A/B Machines”. That said, Alexis has a surfeit of swagger, and their mix of head-nodding drums and blown-out guitar riffs is as potent now as it was six months ago. More importantly, it’s almost impossible to walk down the street listening to this without feeling indestructible. Fuck a baseball bat — this song carries a sledgehammer.

Katherine St Asaph: I’m iffy on this as a single instead of “Crown on the Ground” or “Riot Rhythm”, although that one’s probably too busy being in a car commercial. But “Infinity Guitars” still has Sleigh Bells’ core appeal, meaning that I want to magic up my sixth-grade cheerleader’s uniform and shout along. Alexis Krauss mostly forgoes singing this time in favor of clapping, secret-handshake games where you stomp the bleachers in perfect unison, and chanting burnbook-isms (“dumb whores, best friends”) or elementary-school lessons on cowboys and Indians. We’re at a time when children’s culture, and girl culture specifically, is hyper-marketed. Hannah Montana’s its own institution, flanked by the Bratz and Cliques and Gossip Girls and whatever else finances people’s solid gold Ferraris. But there’s also an incredible amount of nostalgia for what preceded it, for the stuff and milieu girls grew up with and loved. Sleigh Bells tap right into that vein; they’re up there with Tuscadero and Shampoo and the whole poppified post-riot-grrl lot. I’m shouting right along with them.

Alfred Soto: The guitars go on forever, yes.

12 Responses to “Sleigh Bells – Infinity Guitars”

  1. Someday, there’s going to be a Sleigh Bells (or similar) song that gets no score between 3 and 8, and averages about a six. I can’t wait.

  2. woulda given this a 7

  3. Asher Steinberg, I love Henry James but please calm down.

  4. Still can’t crack the top ten on the Controversy Index, though this one came close (#12).

  5. Dave, is there actually a Controversy Index? Is it available for public viewing?

  6. Asher, don’t calm down.

  7. Musically, there’s a ton of noise, but it’s not really very angry or galvanizing; it just kind of sits there in your throat, like an avant-garde matzoh ball.

    “avant-garde matzoh ball” is a bit much imo, but “there’s a ton of noise, but it’s not really very angry or galvanizing” is exactly what i’ve been trying to articulate about sleigh bells

  8. See, I think angry is the last thing Sleigh Bells is trying to be! Galvanizing, sure. But this is joyous shouting, not angry shouting.

  9. Personally, I try to choke down matzoh balls as quickly as possible, but that non-angry/galvanizing noise aspect is exactly what reminds me of kids. Of course, kids get angry, but usually they’re making noise for the sheer joy of making it. Or the joy and anger are mixed up together. I don’t know that I hear any irony at all in Sleigh Bells. Abstraction, sure; but she MEANS “cowboys, Indians,” just like a petulant kid on the playground would. Asher’s bit about Henry James loses me, but I’ll chalk that up to my own ignorance of Henry James.

  10. xp with Katherine; and if it makes a difference, my five-year-old LOVES this album.

  11. The irony question’s complicated. (Wall of text alert ahead edited less than I’d like perhaps.)

    Certainly there’s a strong element of irony in the kiddie-culture nostalgia that comes to mind first. The “Junk” in Retro Junk is there for a reason. Everyone’s saying, in effect, “Those ’80s (now rapidly becoming ’90s) cartoons were shit, weren’t they? Man, I miss that shit. It’s a lot better than the shit these days.” The more voices you have saying this, the more fun it becomes. It’s definitely a lot more fun than liking what they’re supposed to like, how they’re supposed to like it — quietly, demurely. Factor in the fact that stable adult life isn’t all that stable, especially now, and that childhood shit starts to look pretty damn good.

    Girl-kiddie-culture nostalgia, however, is its own thing; take all of the above and shunt it into a niche, because that’s how it usually works out. The stuff either unisex (’80s/’90s music,) or targeted at boys (Transformers, Power Rangers, etc.) Meanwhile, off in the blogs, you have teens and women singing the praises of the Babysitters Club and Sassy magazine and Sweet Valley High and the like, their own childhood markers. There’s snark, yes, but there’s equal if not greater parts genuine respect and love — even if you weren’t there — and a desire to propagate it, keep it all alive for future generations of girls. It’s not just stuff anymore, it’s stories, and this just doesn’t exist to as great a degree in the former in my eyes.

    Sleigh Bells is kind of oddly positioned in this respect. Traditional indie types tend toward the former, but if you look at Sleigh Bells’ lyrics, they’re definitely for girls! The speaker doesn’t want her friend Rachel to go to the beach without her, a vein of angst that gets mined and mined again. She’s “all about” another (?) friend’s braces, unlike her boyfriend; “Tell ‘Em” might seem more gender-inclusive, but that “all the boys these days / look away, look away, look away” section’s talking *about* the boys, not *to* them. “Did you do your best today?” is part of what girls are told they should be (I always think of Anna’s mom in the movie adaptation of Freaky Friday saying “Make good choices,” something my own mother adopted for about a year following.) The Looking away from the boys is another part, the cautionary part. And then “Cocainechampaignecocainechampagne!” is the party-culture, hedonistic part, and so forth. I’m not sure which parts of all this Derek wrote and which Alexis wrote (credits and interviews are both hazy) but she had to have had a lot of input.

    Is it ironic? Of course it is; youth culture is full of irony, and without a certain degree of it you get stuff that comes off like, say, Miranda Cosgrove’s “Kissin’ U”: the modern version of Charlotte Yonge novel, engineered to help kids Make Good Choices. (The obvious counterexample is Twilight, I guess, but there’s enough irony in the fandom, or at least certain segments of the fandom, that I think my point still stands.)

    The real question is whether Alexis thinks all this is junk, whether she’s poking fun at the kids or really trying to emulate/inspire them.) I can’t hear a single note of fun-poking here, but I do hear a whole lot of inspiration. Which makes sense. The point of cheerleaders (well, one of them) is to get people to cheer along.

  12. Katherine, I’ll sheepishly admit that, aside from the boyfriend/braces line, I never equated Alexis with adolescent girlhood. Probably since my main listening companion is five, I hear it all from that age or a little higher, probably up to 10 or so; so “set set that crown on the ground” is bratty playground instruction during King of the Hill or something similar, and “got my a machines on the table, got my b machines in the drawer” is something a kid repeats over and over when I’m paying bills (or whatever) and he’s pestering me to play. I hear how “Did you do your best today?” sounds ironic with your target age group, but with my target age group it’s sincere parroting of something parents say. (Which, given that real-life Alexis is older than 10, makes it a different kind of irony; I forget what they are offhand.) Not that my target age group is necessarily incapable of irony — maybe some educational theorists can speak to that — but their irony seems to be parroted more than understood.

    But yes, like you I don’t hear any fun-poking.