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Crystal Castles (II) Album review

May 25, 2010

Originally posted on The 405

Label: Fiction
Release date: 24/05/10
Link: Official Website

Everything is set-up for Crystal Castles to crash here. Let’s time travel: they just managed to gatecrash the tail end of the ‘electro boom’ in 2008, picking up a section of fans, sporting glo-glasses and sunsticks, who you’d find calling themselves that dirty word, gulp… nu-rave, – they even appearing on a episode of Skins for Gods sake. We all know how some acts have aged terribly in that short space of time since then, though of course their debut was a more complex beast than that lazily labeled scene (which they distanced themselves from).

Continuing, CC have notoriously been abrasive towards the media at times, and even their own supporters arguably, surely there’s many out there waiting for them succumb to the spectacular and clichéd sophomore slump? Well, they better save their bitter, sniping arsenal for someone else, as the Toronto duo have instead created something that’s just plain old spectacular.

The debut album and live shows earned them a reputation for something of an almost punk aesthetic, both in their general demeanor and in their breathless, gritty sound. In this album annoyingly also named Crystal Castles (yeah, fuck you itunes), this relentless pace is replaced by what many will dub as more a more ‘mature’ affair. 2nd track Celestica demonstrates this in it’s almost shoegazey tone, with a surprisingly melodic – dare we say soothing – Alice Glass vocal.

A feature that is prominent is the style of production – gone are the lo-fi days (and ‘chiptune’) of some past work, and welcomed is a layered smorgasbord of electronic samples, that genuinely sound a mixture of stunning and unnerving in a quality pair of headphones. This is apparent from the get-go in opener Fainting Spells. It starts with a minimal build-up over a thumping kick-drum, and slowly builds with a layer of slightly nightmarish sampled sounds, including heavily distorted Alice Glass vocals (almost unrecognizable as vocals in fact so manipulated they are). An excellent, brooding mess. In fact, the vocals of Miss Glass are utilised throughout the album as just another instrument to be played around with in the studio – to frequently brilliant effects.

Doe Deer is perhaps the only reminder of the past; 1 min 37 seconds of incessant noise, a classic short-sharp adrenaline rush, reminiscent of a strong DFA track. Baptism is an immediate highlight of the album in its ravey rise-and-fall nature with screeching vocals planted over the top, and Intimate equally as splendidly danceable. Later on Not In Love surpasses this high, a gentle nostalgia-inducing track that has a feel of something special. You must be getting gold when even electronics can induce a feeling of nostalgia.

CC still manage to showcase their ‘caustic’ side, but just through more subtle means. Take the malevolent Empathy, which is rather minimal at times, but with a regular lick that is so heavy on the mid/high frequency treble, it would make the most hardened clubber feel slightly disconcerted and disorientated. Coupled with the synergy of downbeat, reverb-heavy indecipherable vocals, it posses a feel of a foreboding nightmare (Nightmare word count: 2). Again, Year Of Silence plays with this dark nature, utlising the normally playful vocals of Jonsi in Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur, but subverts it by sampling a section of lyrics on a loop, and manages to even make the heavenly Icelandic one sound menacing in the process.

So a definite shift in direction is apparent, with excellent and smart production from CC member Ethan Kath that never feels over-produced conversely. Darker in tone, it marks a more coherent sound whilst pushing themselves to achieve new heights as many artists have in recent times; think The Horrors at their Primary Colours reinvention, Fuck Buttons not settling on their sound of Street Horrrsing etc. A strong album – yet despite all the ‘dark’ talk here, is still definitely something to move about too and get giddy; just in a more refined, less frenzied shitstorm kind of way like it’s predecessor.

Rating: 8.5/10

Download: Crystal Castles – Empathy

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 20, 2011 15:35

    This is a very religion-minded album, you know.

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