Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2010-05-24

Crystal Castles arrive with their second album sooner than scheduled due to leaks on the internet and general demand. On first listen to the imaginatively named 'Crystal Castles', I was really hung-over and not in a good place. It was unpleasant at best, but mostly just painful. Then I listened to it again the next day, while walking through Leeds city centre as the sun was going down and it was just perfect. Music journalists, as always with the sound of Alice Glass and Ethan Kath, throw out the cliche that you are either going to love it or hate it. I disagree with this when it comes to this record; from start to finish this album is bigger and more sophisticated than we have ever heard from the duo. It needs to be discovered and you can't dismiss it after just one listen.

We kick off with 'Fainting Spells'. The word that comes to mind whilst listening to this track is 'harsh'. Almost like nails down a blackboard. The vocals sound more distorted and the synths sound wilder. This track is intentionally uncomfortable to listen to and makes a loud statement about the conventional melody structures within electronica that the duo have been striving so hard to push away from. I am still not really into this track. However, it does have a undeniably powerful energy behind it which I imagine will be a joy to witness live.

Next track, 'Celestica' is more like what I would have expected from the duo, it has a familiar feel to it. The vocals are dreamy and perfectly accompanied by a simple keyboard melody which reminds me of a 90s 10-battery powered Yamaha keyboard on the 'chime' setting. It sets the listener up for a shock the first time you hear 'Doe Deer', the first single off the record. One-minute-37 of pure noise reminiscent of early Prodigy in parts with distorted screeches over the top. I don't doubt that in a live forum this one is going to make all the trendy scenesters forget their hair styles for a brief hiatus and jump around.

And on we go to 'Baptism'. It's so 90s-trance in parts it makes me think of Pogs and Kappa tracksuits. Again, there is nothing relaxing about this album, track after track producing layers of thumping noise. I feel like an old granny writing that, but trust me, it's heavy. 'Year Of Silence' is no exception, and it's anything but silent. However, this track is friendlier to the ear with nice breakdowns that give you chance to catch your breath. 'Empathy' is a change in pace again with a generic hip hop beat and floaty synths and vocals over the top. I like the samples and the atmosphere in this song; it's kinda bittersweet, like a lovely encounter with someone while knowing you have to say goodbye for a really long time. 'Suffocation' continues with the same bittersweet romantic theme although the vocals are mostly incomprehensible, not that it matters with Crystal Castles, it's never been about lyrics, just the sound.

'Violent Dreams' features what I can only presume is Ethan Kath's vocals; they defiantly sound different - good different. This song feels quite repetitive and a bit boring in light of the previous chops and changes in style throughout this record. It seems to drag on a bit; I spent the entire time listening to it expecting it to go somewhere, but it doesn't. The abrupt ending plays like an anti-climax. 'Vietnam' is a classic dance music progression, not as much distortion and noise influence. The pitch is bent on the vocals to create a similar effect to that from 'Crimewave' from the first record which plays perfectly.

We are on the home straight now with 'Birds': it has a distorted, angry guitar sound running though it and is almost defiantly drawing on the duo's punk influences. This is one of the uneasy tracks with the vocals sounding like a woman in the distance crying for help. It sounds almost industrial and would be perfect in a zombie movie. 'Pap Smear' is defiantly the most transparent song on the entire record, starting with a euphoric synth line and relentless 4/4 beat. Alice Glass continues to work her magic; it's great and plays on more obvious melody lines and generic song structure.

'Not in Love' up next and by this point I am getting a bit bored, same 4/4 beat synth and lyrics you can't quite catch. Oh, and don't forget the thick layer of indistinguishable noise. Deep down below all that stuff is a conventional song structure. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus. It's as if they are trying to hide it, like a dirty little secret, but if you listen closely it's there. 'Intimate' brings my attention back; the relationship between the melody in the noise and the beat really works well in this track. Throughout this entire record one thing that has stood out is the cross-genre influences, drawing on a whole different spectrum of traditional beats and basslines and building upwards.

Final track 'I Am Made of Chalk' starts like that noise cats make when they fight and leaves you in a ocean swimming with dolphins. I guess that sums up this record for me: some parts are edgy and uncomfortable, other parts are dreamy. I am impressed by that uneasiness I feel when trying to come up with a verdict on this record; no music really does that to me - I like what I like. A lot of you will have made up your mind on Crystal Castles a long time ago, maybe pegging them as hipster try-hards but they have come a long way since their first album. It's defiantly an interesting journey they are on.

Emma Stafford

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