Contemporary heart

By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  April 27, 2010

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ALL AT ONCE Yeasayer precision-abduct sounds from their cushy context in the collective pop memory and collide them into new, eerily familiar pop forms.

Oddly, what Sleigh Bells are doing — grafting elements of hip-hop to hard rock — is a road we’ve been down before. (Yes, I mean Korn.) But their combination of the two sounds is difficult to resist — it sounds like a chance encounter that worked. Which is exactly what it was. Derek Miller was the Krauss family’s waiter at Miss Favela in South Williamsburg when he met Alexis. He first hit it off with her mom, shooting the shit about their mutual home turf of Florida (where he was in avant-hardcore heroes Poison the Well), and discussing his current musical doings in the city. As it happened, he needed a girl to sing; as it happened, Alexis was a vocalist. When she returned to the table, Sleigh Bells formed.

Even now, they’ve been doing shows for less than a year, and they have just a few hotly forwarded demos (their full-length Treats drops May 11, in partnership with M.I.A.’s NEET Recordings), so suffice to say Krauss did not expect to have to quit teaching fourth grade to tour the world all year. But the scalding bounce of “Crown on the Ground,” the crunk-metal scratch of “A/B Machines,” and the way her soulful voice curlicues into the heights while Miller’s guitar scrapes into the dirt explains everything. If this isn’t a clear glimpse into the future, it’s at least a long overdue course correction of a majorly errant nü-metal past. Oh, and did I mention it’s raw?

“Originally, that rawness was out of necessity,” Krauss tells me. “The equipment we had wasn’t so great, and this is what it sounded like.” Graduating from the cellar to Coachella overnight has called for some quick adjustments. Those limits they clawed through while pushing crappy PAs into the red during tiny club shows simply aren’t there in the bigger rooms — and though a good sound system is nothing to complain about, all the low end is frequently loud enough to freeze their laptops mid song. After a few tweaks of their songs and their set-up, they couldn’t be any happier to be louder. “Now, we don’t come off so great when the speakers can’t handle it,” she says, “but we’re not looking to clean anything up.”

It’d be specious and lame to suggest that Sleigh Bells presage a front of nü-nü-metal (please, cosmos, don’t let that happen), but they do represent a streak of scaled-down fearlessness that’s rewriting rock by erasing large swaths of it. A technical difficulty I witnessed during an outdoor show in Texas shrank their whole set-up down to an iPod and a guitar; it was a snag that would have run them from the village five years ago, but it was met with the forgiveness a crowd would extend over a broken string or a fried amp. Far from Yeasayer’s hungry sampling of associations, Sleigh Bells stick tenaciously to the essentials. For now, their strength is in their knack for making a lot out of a little — and if that’s not a welcome lesson for today, I’m not sure what is.

YEASAYER + SLEIGH BELLS | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Allston | May 3 at 8 pm | 18 + | OFFICIALLY SOLD OUT | 617.562.8800 or thedise.com

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