Thursday, February 23, 2012

Double Review: "Reign of Terror" & "Some Nights"

It's been a good past couple weeks for music fans on the Internet.

Last week, the sophomore efforts from fun. and Sleigh Bells made their way onto various streaming sites and the two albums were released for purchase on Tuesday. And though one band has made a name for making noise and the other has made one for having, well... fun, it's fitting the two were released on the same day as there are a few similarities between them.

Both feature artists that found success with previous bands. Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells made waves with Poison the Well and Nate Ruess still has fans from his days with The Format.

Both have been featured in various commercials and TV shows that has taken them from indie darlings to future stars.

And both have made a musical impact doing something that's hard with today's genres - being unique.

So how did the recent releases rank on The Sight of Sound? Read below to find out.

fun. - Some Nights (4 stars)

I'm just going to say this upfront - I am a huge fan of this album. It's only February, but it has set the bar as far as my favorite of 2012 (you hear that Silversun Pickups?) because quite simply put it's a wonderful release.

On the band's debut, Aim and Ignite, Ruess and bandmates Andrew Dost and Jack Antonoff put together a selection of songs that highlighted strings and poetic wordplay. It seemed to have a sense of being serious without taking themselves seriously.

Enter Some Nights and from the very start it's clear the band wanted to go bigger - and they succeeded (look no further than the song currently taking over the world, "We Are Young" featuring the very underrated Janelle Monae). Comparisons have been made to Queen in the opener "Some Nights intro" but the band also employs hip-hop beats on "All Alone" and big bass with an 80s style riff on "It Gets Better."

"Carry On" and "Why Am I The One" call back to the simplicity of the band's debut, but I respect them branching out and trying different styles because when you listen you can tell they were having fun (look, it's a hard pun not to use).

The only issue perhaps is that it's greatest strength does become it's weakness. That is, employing a bunch of different genres and sounds will make for a good shakeup but can be hard to keep up with at times. For example, after the uplifting "All Alright" it's sort of a step in a weird direction when it's followed up by the big band sounding "One Foot."

And the autotune. When I listened to this album for the first time, I live tweeted my thoughts and here is what I said during the closer "Stars" (one of my favorite tracks on the album):

It's simple, but it's how I still feel. Ruess has an amazing voice that doesn't need any help, but the way the band uses it here it's like an additional instrument. Point: I like it.

In summary, fun.'s sophomore effort takes one or two missteps, but overall is a really joyful ride. The greatest albums are about the experience and from start to finish I enjoy my time with Some Nights.

Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror (3 stars)

The New York duo (Miller along with Betty Page reincarnated into punk form in Alexis Krauss) bring the noise on Reign of Terror, that's for sure, but how much of it is really substantial. Or for that matter, how much of that matters?

I struggle with this band, I really do. At first, I liked their sound. Then hated it. Then loved it. And finally I came to the conclusion that my reasoning for the flip flops is because at times they have a sound that can fill an arena and other times a sound that could barely fill a basement.

Treats provided that same mixture, but where the album dipped with the overplayed "Rill Rill" it bounced back heavily with "Crown on the Ground" and "Infinity Guitars." On the follow-up, they seem to settle down a bit more.

And for me, that's a bit of a setback. I think Sleigh Bells is at their strongest when they absolutely shred speakers and the chaos only picks up sporadically here. But when I got past that, I still recognized a well put together release.

One thing they did beautifully was somehow find a way to be both light and dark at the same time. Take future single "Crush," which swoons quite simply "I got a crush on / I got a crush on you" and then a few tracks later the band goes full on into 80s heavy metal meets Skrillex-style noise in "Demons" ("you'll be taken down brick by brick by brick").

It's a chaotic compromise found throughout the album, at times dragging you to hell with bass in your face and elsewhere lifting you to the heavens with guitars as wings.

Simply put, if you were a fan of Treats then you shouldn't hate Reign of Terror. And if this is your first time hearing any of it, be prepared for some big sounds and lulling vocals. And have some aspirin ready for any possible headbanging.

sidenote: "Demons" is by far my favorite track on the album and right now is my favorite track of the year. It's an absolute beast that should be listened to with the sound turned up as high it can go.

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