This year, the sound of the city in the summer includes Sleigh Bells
MUSIC Take a page from the Peaches lesson plan: there are a few similarities between whipping a mob of too-cool-for-school hipsters and jaded insiders into a silly, sweltering mess — and rocking a classroom of bored youngsters. Sweet-voiced and sweet-tempered, Sleigh Bells vocalist Alexis Krauss knows this all too well: as a Teach for America educator, she was once charged with motivating antsy 10-year-olds. "You have to be high energy — it's hard work!" the 24-year-old exclaims merrily over a gas-and-go line as she and bandmate Derek Miller, 28, once of screamo-hardcore outfit Poison the Well, tool through rural Pennsylvania on tour with Major Lazer.
Sleigh Bells' performances have been a precious few since late last year, when the Brooklyn twosome stumbled into a few shows as part of CMJ Music Marathon in New York City and ended up being declared breakout belles by sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum. "We weren't really even ready to start playing till December 2009," Krauss demurs. "But we got lucky and met the right people at the right time."
The frontwoman has had her share of luck: at 13, she was tapped by producers to sing and play bass in teen-pop act RubyBlue. "Basically it was like all those stories that you hear about those bands: a factory," she recalls. "It was great in that I learned a lot at a young age, but eye-opening in terms of the darker side of the music business — in the sense that you have no say in the decisions going on around you."
Disillusionment with music followed, but Krauss met Miller in an almost mythic manner two years ago: at a Brazilian restaurant in NYC, he was waiting on her when her mother helpfully volunteered her daughter's services as a singer. Since then it's been a perfect storm of good fortune for the duo. On the strength of a few demos — part of a trove that Miller had been working on in his bedroom since leaving his old band in search of a womanly voice — the pair were embraced by MIA. Miller ended up doing production on MIA's forthcoming full-length, and her NEET Recordings is coreleasing Sleigh Bells' debut, Treats (Mom + Pop), on May 11.
MIA's and Sleigh Bells' simpatico approach comes through loud and clear in their mutual affection for hip-hop pastiche and post-punk dissonance. Tracks like "A/B Machines" call out to a makeshift dance floor with four-alarm urgency, perpetually revving Link Wray twang and gristly crunch. The janky-cool "Crown on the Ground" draws power from its bleeding, in-the-red meeting ground between hip-hop heads and noise generators. "Ring Ring" comes off as Sleigh Bells at its most soulful — rolling along on an acoustic guitar vamp, finger-click snap, and Krauss' girlish rap about a sweet and sultry 16. If this is the sound of summer — an early contender for summer song of 2010 — it's summer in the city, with guitars that sound like jackhammers and ambulance sirens. Even the playful "At the Beach" is driven by rave-ready horn blasts and the type of bass thump you'd ordinarily hear from a passing Jeep.
The pair went into the studio in January, re-recording some songs and assembling new ones. And while Miller still writes the majority of material, Krauss says the two are growing into their roles and becoming more collaborative. In any case, they didn't clean things up too much. "We added just a few more tools at our disposal to create a better sound," she explains. "So we hope that it will be everything people want it to be." What do Sleigh Bells want? "We like people dancing, singing along, and losing their minds."
April 17, 9 p.m., $20
1805 Geary, SF