Crystal Castles ‘Crystal Castles’ – Review

29 Apr

The new Crystal Castles album has creepy cover. It’s just a picture of a strange, pale girl dressed in black and hunching over a grave. It’s a striking image yet a vague one, hard to define, hard to connect with. These accusations could just as easily be thrown at the duo’s music not too long ago – sterile, distant, weird and yet striking.

Their debut album defined a certain feeling in electronic music a couple of years back. In particular ‘Alice Practice’ captured an excitement that a new age of nostalgia fueled electro was upon us. It took the beeps and sirens of rave and contrasted them perfectly with 8 bit game sounds and It was something of a revelation. But if people thought that the song would change the face of electro they were wrong, it wouldn’t even predict the major mood of their album. It sat along side a whole host of different musical styles from synth pop to digi punk, techno to shoegaze. It was a deliberate mish-mash of everything and the result was an equally brilliant and frustrrating experience.

Now they are back with album number two and to confuse us even more this is also self titled. Like the first record there is a lot to digest here, it’s fourteen tracks long and each song sounds unique.  This time though they have given us links, themes that reappear along the way, and these titbits keep the songs glued together to make a cohesive and well structured whole. A hip hop beat for example is used to great effect on several tracks, including stand out ‘Empathy’. Alice’s vocals are given the shoegaze treatment most of the time, her voice is hidden and soft making a few tracks sound like M83. It makes the album a smoother ride than the first one, which featured all kinds of crazy vocal tricks and distortion.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still lots of shouting and noise – too much on album opener ‘Fainting Spells’ and first single ‘Doe Deer’ – but the noise now seems to be more carefully considered as a part of the whole. There are no jarring departures from form like there were on the first album, instead emphasis seems to have been placed on the overall sound rather than a single hook or lyric. Therefore when their custom 8 bit sounds appear on ‘I Am Chalk’ they don’t sound gimmicky, they sound like just another instrument.

It’s hard to judge, sitting in an arm-chair, just how good this album is – it simply isn’t meant to be listened to like that. These are songs that need to be heard on the dance floor, or live at a sweaty club. Crystal Castles have always enjoyed a reputation as one of the most insane live acts around and I get the feeling that these songs will fit in nicely with their older material. As a studio band they have moved on leaps and bounds with album number two – it may not have the zeitgeist defining singles that the first one had, but it irons out the niggles and flaws of that album very well. They are still the old Crystal Castles but just more refined.

8/10

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