Know Your Backlash: Sleigh Bells’ “Reign of Terror,” Streaming Now

Know Your Backlash: Sleigh Bells’ “Reign of Terror,” Streaming Now
Denim if you got 'em: Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells.
(Courtesy Mom+Pop Music)

Today the New York Times profiles the indie rock duo Sleigh Bells, who are releasing their second album, “Reign of Terror,” next week. You may already know how you feel about the band’s music, and if so, you’re unlikely to change that opinion after hearing the new disc, which is streaming exclusively alongside the article. The group started with a distinctive sound and have stuck with it.

But maybe you’re not familiar with that sound; maybe all you know about Sleigh Bells is that they’ve generated some attention, mainly online and among people who track indie rock. Knowing this, it would make sense for you to be curious about the band. Then again, you might be wary — you may suspect that you’re being drawn into a cycle of hype. That is where a backlash starts. But what makes a backlash grow? What makes a person decide that they not only don’t need to learn more about this band, but resent the suggestion that they should know anything about it in the first place?

There is a paradox at the center of every backlash, and it is this: Anyone who bothers to weigh one knows that its sources have nothing to do with directly experiencing the cultural product, but rather, the promotion of that cultural product, and whether or not this promotion is somehow earned. We don’t want to be told to like something unless we can provide the reasons, to ourselves and others, for liking it. At the same time, we realize that’s a pitfall — the authenticity trap. Everyone defines the parameters of authenticity slightly differently. It’s like the Hunger Games: Within the arena, smaller traps are laid for specific tributes, playing on their individual insecurities.

Sleigh Bells can be thought of as inauthentic for a number of reasons, depending on one’s fears and biases.

1. They were marked, and analyzed, as a buzz band from the start. (Therefore, the thinking — or, perhaps emotional, reaction — goes, they never connected with a small, authentic, homegrown audience in the first place.)

2. Their guitarist was in a screechy Florida hardcore band, Poison the Well. (Screechy Florida hardcore is not cool — or, at least, not anymore; or, not among as many people — so the guitarist must be sacrificing his authentic self to seem cool.)

3. Their singer was in (a presumably “manufactured”) pop act as a teenager. (Never cool; see #2.)

4. They seem like a band you have to know about to be cool. (To learn about them would be an attempt to also become cool; see #2 and 3.)

5. But the New York Times also profiled them. (Which might actually make them uncool.)

6. Their sound is gimmicky: Girly vocals over metal guitar and drum machine beats. (It doesn’t represent a scene or rooted interests; it was invented.)

7. They are from Brooklyn. (Which might as well be Williamsburg.)

To criticize Sleigh Bells for any of these things would of course be dumb and pointless, especially since many people are already familiar with them. (Although many more are likely about to be.) What’s interesting about Sleigh Bells is that listening to them is a lot like thinking about them: Once you’ve absorbed the sound they create (big beats and guitar, dissections of authenticity), there’s not much to sustain one’s interest. And, they both kind of make your head hurt. “Comeback Kid” is pretty good, though. 

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