Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells; they’ll be a Terminal 5 Friday and Saturday.
Hooks hit you from every direction on the new Sleigh Bells single. In the note-perfect “Bitter Rivals,” the sound of dogs barking, girls cooing, a guitar rattling and percussion clicking all vie for your attention.
And that’s before the proper song even begins.
Twenty seconds later, all those sounds get trashed so the duo can lob at the listener a whole new host of sonic lures, including a gunshot beat and a squealing metal guitar.
“I’m just trying to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck,” says Derek Miller, architect of all this sound. “I keep working the track until it gets to that point.”
Miller multitasks. He plays most of the instruments, produces the records and writes the core of the songs.
Somehow, even with so many elements in the Sleigh Bells’ songs, they never sound cluttered. Though they’re dense with ideas and punishing in volume, the songs feel simple, catchy and clean. That balance — most often labeled “noise-pop” — has helped make Sleigh Bells one of Brooklyn’s biggest breakout bands of this decade. Tonight and Saturday they’ll headline Terminal 5.
The wit and changeability of their sound hardly rank as Sleigh Bells’ sole draws. They’ve also got frontwoman Alexis Krauss, who dolls herself up like a Bettie Page centerfold, and sings with the sneer of a classic femme fatale.
Sleigh Bells anchors their shifting attractions with one constant: a concussive beat. It’s almost ruinously loud — some fans have complained of head pain after shows. But the music’s also rich, fired by what sounds like a full symphony. Miller creates the effect largely with synthesizers. “I do record a brass section and include samples,” he says. “But then I destroy them or make them unrecognizable.”
Miller traces his attachment to cacophony to the first groups he played with. “I came up in hardcore bands,” he says. “So I’m drawn to abrasion.”
Specifically, Miller played with the metallic Poison the Well in his home state of Florida. In 2008, he moved to Brooklyn with the mission of finding a female singer. “I had been working with guys since I was 10,” Miller says. “I was sick of it.”
He and Krauss met cute. Miller was working as a waiter at the Brazilian restaurant Miss Favela in Brooklyn. Krauss, who had sung in groups in her native New Jersey since age 12, was with her mom at one of Miller’s tables. They struck up a conversation when Miller mentioned he was looking for a female singer. Mother volunteered her daughter. “I’m sure she was embarrassed at the time,” Miller says.
The relationship between the two has always been platonic. “I don’t know how couples make a record together,” Miller says. “It seems like an extremely volatile situation to me.”
Their debut CD, 2010’s “Treats,” which appeared on M.I.A.’s imprint N.E.E.T. Recordings, cracked the Top 40. For that disc, Miller created all the music, though for its 2012 follow-up, “Reign of Terror,” Krauss began to contribute some melodies. She wrote more for the new “Bitter Rivals” CD. “She helps negate some of the heaviness, which keeps it from veering into macho-bonehead music,” Miller says.
There’s still plenty of that left over. The key riff of the “Bitter Rivals” single sounds like it could have come off an early Beastie Boys’ album. “Their ‘Paul’s Boutique’ is one of my desert-island discs,” Miller says. “It’s exploding with creativity.”
Sleigh Bells also references the Beasties in the video for “Bitter Rivals.” They shot it at the Unisphere in Queens, a landmark that also graces the inside spread of the Beasties’ album “License to Ill.” Like “Paul’s Boutique,” Sleigh Bells’ songs run over with ideas, all crammed into three-minute packages.
“Half the fun for me is working in all those little irreverent sounds,” Miller says. “I will work and work a track. The only trick is knowing when to quit.”
Jazz singer Jose James is at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.
LIVE FROM NEW YORK:
– Mike Doughty
Sat. 8 p.m.
Doughty, the former front man of the New York indie-rock band Soul Coughing, isn’t averse to covering John Denver songs. He sings them in a voice at once wary and warm.
– José James
Fri. 8 p.m.
Music Hall of Williamsburg
José James makes muted jazz. Electric pianos shimmer, bass lines undulate and horns bend in a silent way, while James keeps his singing close and hushed. Instead of adding up to elevator music, it’s so sexy and honed it could give soft-jazz a good name.
– Amel Larrieux
Wed. 8 p.m.
The atmospheric voice of New York-born Amel Larrieux surrounds her songs. They mingle jazz, trip-hop, R&B and soul. Think Erykah Badu at her airiest.
– Robert Randolph & the Family Band
Sat. Capitol Theater in Port Chester, Tues. & Wed. at Brooklyn Bowl. All 8 p.m.
Robert Randolph slips up and down the fretboard of his slide guitar with whimsy and grace. While categorized as a jam act, he and his Family Band have firmed up their song structures over time, giving solid grounding for Randolph to pluck gamely away.