Review: Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles are a tricksy band: despite their chiptune stylings, they’re not named after the 1983 Atari videogame; they’re not adverse to an on-stage hissy fit or a pre-show cancellation and Crystal Castles, the name of their second album, is the same as their first – Crystal Castles.

Such inscrutability translates into their music. Crystal Castles (the album – the first one) held still just long enough to be unsatisfactorily pinned down with labels like the aforementioned chiptune and, more awkwardly, new rave. But the NME’s keenness to create and categorise a movement unsurprisingly never quite rang true. The chiptune element on their debut was one of the most notable sounds of the album, but beyond xxzxcuzx me and Alice Practice it was a supplementary texture than a dominant one and was confused with a more general lo-fi, scuzzy sound. And, whilst plenty of Klaxon’s fans found themselves to be fans of the Toronto duo, there’s yet to be a convincing description of nu-rave that goes beyond vague aesthetics and marketing guff.

Crystal Castles continues to indulge in the child-like curiosity and refusal to settle, best exampled by the three track run of Celestica, Doe Deer and Baptism. Celestica is a breathless, airy affair; Alice sings in a perfectly crystalline tone and displays surprising warmth in her voice. The brief interlude of Doe Deer soon demolishes any frivolous sensitivities with a scuzzy, lo-fi scream-fest and then, suddenly, we’re greeted with stabbing, fissuring, stadium-sized synths, frolicking 8-bit key riffs and Alice delivering vocals in her trademark snarl, a world away from wounded croon of Celestica. The band remain eclectic and whilst there’s no equivalent to the debut’s acoustic closer, Tell Me What To Swallow, in terms of thematic sucker punches, it’s an album that defies an easy, sentence length summation. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. The album is long and more importantly, it feels long; as with the debut, the band’s restlessness grows fatiguing over the sub-hour runtime.

The duo clearly has a sense of adventure when it comes to their music and it often works in their favour. They deliver a remarkable variation of sound from such a low-key and limited set-up. The aforementioned mentioned Celestica and Doe Deer are both excellent tracks, having them back to back showcases the benefits of mixing up a sound, as does the larger, more ambitious sound of Vietnam whose eerie, glistening strains ebb and flow throughout its five minute runtime over a steady House beat and showcases the band’s progressive edge – something that couldn’t be said of their visceral debut.

A keen ear for current trends and perhaps an overly enthusiastic desire to dabble in them is evidenced by chillwave influenced Violet Dreams which takes the wistful soundscapes of Celestica further with a washed-out synth that repeats a hypnotic four chord progression over and over as it dissipates into the horizon over which processed, Alice’s vocals are disfigured, slowed down and glitched as ever; her vocal nihilism seems the perfect match for the genre’s passive indifference. It’s another accomplished switch-up and welcome change of pace that offers a welcoming mid-album palate cleanser and presents an interesting sound that the band could choose to pursue.

Despite this breadth the album’s numerous styles never feel completely explored or mastered. You almost wish they’d pick a couple of approaches and really drill them for hooks and melodies whilst also creating a cohesive, less fatiguing album.

Crystal Castles is a solid step-up from their debut and shows the duo displaying an increasing maturity and confidence in their craft. As the blogs invent and reinvent a dozen genres a week, the band shows a clear determination to avoid being typecast after a brief dalliance with the novelties of chiptune and nu-rave. This same desire to expand their sound and avoid falling into a niche does hinder when they set their stall to broadly, but the foundations of a stronger album is here. If the duo nail their colours to the mast, they could make something great, something permanent.

6/10


MP3: Crystal Castles – Violent Dreams


MP3: Crystal Castles – Vietnam

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2 responses to “Review: Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles

  1. Pingback: Flying Lotus: …And the World Laughs With You (feat. Thom Yorke) «

  2. I love your review

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