So earlier this year M.I.A. released “Born Free”, a song which sampled Suicide’s “Ghost Rider” and basically sounded like a Hanin Elias track from 1998. Atari Teenage Riot reformed (even though it really was just Alec Empire reclaiming the name and performing with his current band because his solo shows weren’t paying, Billy Corgan style). Most importantly, Sleigh Bells dropped Treats and had a song played on Gossip Girl. Digital Hardcore finally hit the mainstream, ten or twelve years too late. Which, I guess means nothing, but it’s weird. That’s the history of pop music, the weirder fringes ultimately get processed down into pop, and Sleigh Bells made a really good pop record. Probably the best straight pop record to come out this year.
It still is strange that this is the thing to hit in 2010. Digital hardcore was as millennial as it got. ATR and the bands that were in their direct circle were political, they appeared in reaction to the boring-ass rave music that was huge in europe in the 90s, they were post-gamer, post-industrial going pop, post-Detroit Techno, post-Fear of a Black Planet. They sampled the Bad Brains and Slayer. They toured with Rage Against the Machine and the Wu-Tang Clan (the amount of those shows that actually happened probably numbers under double digits). They wrote a whole shitload of smash the state anthems, and more interestingly a few songs about killing neo-nazis, hating journalists, and destroying technology (even though they made techno!). They were completely full of shit, but they sounded great and I was 14. It was a lot better to listen to than the warped tour shit everyone else I knew listened to (I know this seems like a detour but we’ll come back to this). Which, if you’re that age I say it’s better to be listening to loud shit that makes other kids hate recoil in disgust the way their shitty pop-punk made their parents (I wish someone had told me I should have been listening to Big Pun the whole time, but hey, what’s done is done).
The thing is, even though they were full of shit, a lot of these bands had agendas they were riding on. ATR were political, Kid606 was an anarchist, Chicks on Speed were D.I.Y. crypto-feminists, Shizuo wanted to make music you got high to. It was a great sound, but there were ideas motivating them. Then electroclash happened, but electroclash was almost entirely shit (with the exception of Ladytron). The best Le Tigre song was a the Kid606 remix of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl”. Which you might notice sounds exactly like Sleigh Bells, but I’m jumping ahead of myself. Anything and everything millennial seemed dated, those bands broke up or mutated or got boring, their replacements had no use for them. Noise-pop in the past decade has been damn interesting, even in the areas I’m not going to listen to (I’m not the biggest Animal Collective guy but goddamn I’m happy something this weird is a big thing for a lot of people) , probably because anything that felt 90s was avoided across the board. The strange thing is that after the Go! Team and the advent of 90s nostalgia in indie music, this shit was coming.
Or maybe they have no idea the whole digital hardcore thing existed and came to it by accident? Maybe they just went Example A plus Example B equals Example C through sheer intuition. Shit like that happens, I guess, even though I doubt it happens very often (consider Interpol talking about Joy Division, The Strokes talking about Television, shitty band x about better band y). Anyone who wants to describe Sleigh Bells as a new sound has to run into a dozen comparisons, even if you want to restrict it to boy/girl noise duos (ahem and AHEM). But you can really hear ec8or in the Sleigh Bells album that you can’t hear in Crystal Castles (who are the real 2010 variation of this stuff without referencing it, their Amen Break is squealing tape distortion, their hating neonazis is plagarism). The question becomes “why is this a thing?” and maybe more importantly “why am I overthinking what has never been anything more or less than a great sounding, loud-as-fuck pop album?”. The answers to those questions are “because it sounds good and it’s no longer a sound other people have an opinion about (or ever did)” and “because I’m an asshole”. Here’s what happens when this sound goes pop - a guy who was in one of those same shitty warped tour bands that I listened to “CYBERPUNKS ARE DEAD” to distance myself from is making a song called “Riot Rhythm”. It’s sung by a gorgeous girl with a thin voice, and the track is distorted to all fuck. That song is used to sell cars. That shit. That happened.
Treats is album that doesn’t lend itself to intellectual discussion any more than any other bubblegum record, the difference with this one is that it can and will fuck up your speakers because it’s mixed way into the red. The songs are meaningless, catchy, and FUCKING LOUD. Even the slow jams play on extreme frequencies and in one case pushing a Funkadelic sample to the forefront (another ahem). Treats is all stacked deck moves, building layers until you’re just punishing your eardrums with layers of guitar and beats, essentially turning singsong nursery rhymes into the kind of music you put on to piss off your neighbors. I’m conflicted about it, but not really. It’s a great record, I just worry about it not having any staying power, and even then that’s a weird thing to worry about when you’re listening to an album that could peel the paint off walls.
Also - this really has nothing to do with anything, but - is it hard for you to hear “Crown on the Ground” without saying to yourself “I do not talk, I am just a rapper” like I do? Is that just me?
-Sean Witzke, 2010