My initial critique of Sleigh Bells debut LP, Treats, was that it was a poor pop-star Kathleen Hanna imitation without talent. Sleigh Bells follows up with Reign of Terror, an even worse album that sounds like a coked-out teenage nymphomaniac making a webcam video karaoke-ing along to Def Leppard or Warrant. Treats was no treat, but Reign of Terror is an act of musical terrorism. The best thing about Sleigh Bells is that it’s not catchy enough to make much of a lasting impression. But it’s bad enough that I never want to listen beyond what it takes to Pitch-Fuck it. A few years ago I genuinely hoped that Sleigh Bells couldn’t possibly amount to much more than a flash of a buzzband for hip kids to bounce around to and chant like the nymphomaniac cheerleaders they never had the chance to be. However, Sleigh Bells has come to be like my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): it stirs up a lot of discomfort every now and then, leaving a real mess and a feeling like I’ve had a flag-pole shoved into a body cavity.
A few days ago while watching Saturday Night Live with my dad I was reminded that the Karen-O wannabe accompanied by two soulless pairs of torn jeans on guitar still flared up, and are liked enough to be granted a major network television spot. My pops likes to think he’s open to new music, he’s always telling me about the bands he sees on David Letterman (his recent favorites are Florence and the Machine and Fitz and the Tantrums) so he insists against my protests that we catch a little bit of the band to see what the deal is. I try to promise him it’s terrible, but he wants me to know: his 61-year-old mind is OPEN. One glimpse and I can tell he’s over it “She’s almost wearing shorts,” he remarks.The drum machine and limp metal guitars—which, by the way sound like the guitar sounds on a cheap Yamaha keyboard—has him reaching for the next channel. I make him channel surf our 17 stations for a minimum of 3 minutes before checking NBC again; to his dismay we missed the first joke or two of Weekend Update (his favorite segment) but it was worth it to avoid Sleigh Bells. We repeat the channel dance when they play their second song later.
For their second attempt to poison the public’s ears, Sleigh Bells has abandoned the riot grrl posturing in favor of poppier tendencies. Calling it an aesthetic waxes too artistic: this is not art, it is post-digestive waste. Reign of Terror is a lot like an IBS attack, which means the shit takes a few different forms, textures, and colors. As varied as it may be in style and texture it’s still shit. It’s metal shit and it’s pop shit, but there’s not much substance holding this loose stool of an album together.
Hatred comes easy when you’re staring down the barrel of a gun and deep into the depths all you can see is a collagen-lipped bullet that can scarcely carry a tune making loads of money and getting score of attention for simply being not especially talented but stupidly good-looking. She splashed onto youtube last year with the innocuous iphone filtered video for “Video Games” and delivered one of the most memorably unimpressive Saturday Night Performances ever, which I bore witness to. The performance established her as a manufactured product who—without the digital magic of production—is little more than a blow-up doll with a pulse and a larynx. But the trigger has been pulled and she’s knocked us dead, invoking the apocalypse of hipsterdom by the true beast, Lana Del Rey formerly known as Lizzy Grant.
For evidence of how over-produced Born to Die is, one needs to only pay fleeting attention to Del Rey’s timbre which jumps around so much from helium-breathed rap-singing to a Quaalude-dosed nasally Fiona Apple impersonation and breathier Nancy Sinatra stuff, without the sexual snark.
Everything Lana Del Rey/Lizzy Grant sings with an indifferent delivery. Lyrics to songs like “Video Games” communicate a vulnerability, but her singing is completely devoid of any feeling. It’d be one thing if she had any other talents like playing an instrument or dancing, but no—Del Rey is supposed to be a singer. She just has to stand around and pretend to bare her soul. But no, I don’t even get a hint that she can even feel anything through her plastic skin.
Stylistically, this smoldering pile of melting plastic is all over the place, and strings have been abused to create a false sense of grandiosity. Songs bounce from gentle ballads like “Video Games” to clubby sugary party-anthems like “Off to the Races.”
Overall, I really don’t get the lyrical inconsistencies—does Del Rey really want to die or is she living the dream? Is she a partying Cristal-drinking lover or a lovelorn depression case? In any case this album is a fucking insult to depressed people. As someone who is prone to black-hole suicidal depressions I’m downright offended that Lana Del Rey thinks that clubby beats, over production, psuedo-british pronounciations (see “Vitamin” on the song “Radio”), falsely triumphant orchestral samples, and the occasional mention of death/exhaustion/heartbreak amid hocking various beverages qualifies as misery. Fuck that bitch with a meat tenderizer.
Furthermore, Born to Die is a strange form of torture. The first song, “Born To Die” seems pretty bearable for a few minutes—but it’s a brief purgatory prelude to the rest of the torturous album. By about the 3rd or 4th song you suddenly discover that you are, in fact, traveling through the circles of Hell. You can feel your flesh take on an ooky patina, you chill yet burn simultaneously. Around song 8 or 9 you can feel your IQ drop and your verbal capabilities fumble.
And then you hit “Million Dollar Man” the River Styx of Born to Die’s special hell, a veritable point of no return. Forget whatever life you had back home, you can’t unhear this album. You start to hear the muffled cries of screeching banshees and the autotune kicks in heavier than before. there was no attempt to even mask the amount of pitch correction producers had to slap on Del Rey’s talentless, passionless, flavorless, limp and unimpressive vocal eructations. And oh! the strings! they won’t stop. they just won’t stop. And they don’t stop.
In the heart of darkness “Lolita” is the beast tethered to the post on the barren plain. This is a greater torture than I could have imagined when I first made the unfortunate choice to subject my ears to Born to Die. I’m wondering if she’s the anti-christ. And I google image search the album cover again, and I know I am staring into the bilious rotten core of the beast.
The 15-song torture exercise wraps up with “Lucky Ones.” Subjecting myself to this album has made me the polar opposite of Lucky—perhaps this is the mark of the beast, she wants me to believe we’re lucky trapped here in the underworld, echoing Milton’s Satan “and one could make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell” (not actual LDR lyrics, as they are much too sophisticated, but the sentiment is much the same). And it ends, but the nightmare isn’t over.
The worst part of hell is that you can’t die to escape it. It’s eternal, which is what I fear Lana Del Rey’s infantilized hyper-femininity might mark on modern popular culture. Will she be another Britney who refuses to go away despite an evident dearth of talent. We’re stuck in hell because of the choices we made: we watched the youtube video, we gave endless publicity (any mention is a good mention) to a remarkably lackluster national TV debut, and I chose to listen to this.
Girls’ second release, Father, Son, Holy Ghost is a pretty bad album. It’s the kind of music that’s tailor made for when Hallmark decides it wants to hock a line of greeting cards to hip young folk who just don’t seem to understand the value of sending a piece of mail by the post. This album is a bad indie movie waiting to happen. I imagine a premise that could be intriguing: two young twinks (in love) move to Brooklyn and encounter the struggles of the big city and abandon serial monogamy, but without AIDS to catch it falls flat and trite, avoiding any hint of depth or pathos. Or better yet: a down on his luck (preferably African-American) drag queen moves in with his (successful) sister in the suburbs and causes a thorough hubbub, but forms an unlikely relationship with the boy down the street whose mother just died. This is a movie premise I devised when i was 15, when I may have actually liked this saccharine bullshit. Nah, even my fifteen year old self would have been able to recognize this for the boring jumble of notes it is.
Father, Son, Holy Ghost is just unsexy stuff, and I don’t mean unsexy in a good way, like an el Greco painting. It’s about as sexy as the dude who complains about going a whole 2 weeks without getting a bonk. But perhaps the most glaringly disturbing element of Girls is their posturing as pseudo-sensitive hipster types, the most dangerous creatures of all. The Pseudo-Sensitvie Hipster, or PSH, is far more icky than the everyday creeper; at least a creeper is pretty transparent: he’s not into leaving girls alone, and will tell you all kinds of whacky bullshit that makes you feel uncomfortable. The PSH, however, is the bro who love to come across as a tortured, sensitive artist who broods and feels feelings just like you! He might even feign hesitation to bonk you, just to appear more vulnerable—because ladies eat that shit up like tater-tot casseroles—and talk about being hurt and shit. But the truth about the PSH is that he doesn’t give a shit about anyone’s feelings but his own. He’s too preoccupied feeling his own pain to even think that you might have some. They also tend to have a lot of substance abuse and/or mommy problems.
As for the music itself, it’s a pretty generic mishmash of some acoustic stuff and pitch-perfected vocals (you can’t fool me!) and a few classic rock homages tossed in like the weak, watery “Die” that sounds like they went to Guitar Center and jammed in the store with some pimply overweight teen wearing a Zeppelin tee. This is tossed in amid poppy Belle & Sebastian imitations with plenty of Nord organ hooks.
Oh yeah, they tossed in some Hammond-y organ because why the hell not!? It sounds like they’re playing it with flaccid dongs. The whole album from start to finish sounds like they’re trying really hard to be sensitive little puppy dog boys who just want to lick your face and be loved while simultaneously trying to shove down your throat how broad their influences are. Yet none of these influences really confluence in an innovative or interesting way, and I’m too weary of the PSH to stick my hand down Girls’ pants.
BUT DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT: BULLETS IN THE BUTT:
THIS GUY IS STRAIGHT? I could have sworn he was an up and comping gay icon after he sang into a penis a few years back. But hey, to each their own; gotta keep the world on its toes.
hazy hipstamatic vision is so tired
Excessive use of floral print
+Bonus points for the Deathly Hallows necklace. #harrypotter
Lou Reed has become something akin to a grumbling sado-masochistic great uncle who gropes you at Christmas dinner thinking you’re a young version of his youthful love and then grumbles about how he’d be better off dead. He’s backed by Metallica, the aged step-child of your spineless aunt with low self-esteem who still lives in a basement and works at a pawn shop and thinks selling shit from thrift stores on ebay is a great way to get some extra dough to blow on Coors and black guitars. This album is like a fucked up family dinner if your family was full of emasculated ex-meth addicts slouching into old age all alone and battling sex addiction. Your creepy geriatic great-uncle and your 30-42 year old step-cousin used to just play chess in the basement together, but lately the success of twitter feeds like @Shitmydadsays and that other one where the guy’s dad googles pictures of Jessica Lange in a bathing suit has inspired cousin James to invite Uncle Lou down to the basement for collaboration. James plays some riffs on his guitars and lets Uncle Lou free-associate into the microphone.
And Uncle Lou got really into it. And Cousin James thought it was pretty bitchin’ too and so did his pawn-shop pals, Kirk, Lars, and Rob who he invited over for the jam.
But me, I would probably be trying to watch Christmas Vacation with my other cousins, but the metal shit-show downstairs would prevent the annual enjoyment of Chevy Chase’s declaration that this will, in fact be “The hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny Fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.” We’d take turns going downstairs to tell them to try to keep it down only to be told “Fuck you.” or to “Fucking deal with it.” Any attempt to tell them this is a stupid idea will not penetrate their bubble of inspiration.
At the end of the night, they’ll emerge from their creative lair and play back their recordings for everyone else over dessert and we’ll all squirm uncomfortably and wait for it to be over. But Uncle Lou and Cousin James (and his pawn-shop pals) will be rocking the fuck out, oblivious to how stupid and disturbing the recordings are.