The millionth awkward interview later and Toronto-based duo Crystal Castles now have a firm reputation for being sulky, withholding artistes, only compensating for this with some of the best, pyschosis-inducing live shows of the decade. If it seems somewhat petulant that this, their second album, has been given the eponymous title as their debut, at least it’s in keeping with their personae. But if the first Crystal Castles was the ferocious, epileptic bastard child of Alice Glass and Ethan Kath, this new LP is the maturing adolescent who has managed to find their way onto somewhat safer ground, with moments of dreamy calm glowing unexpectedly in places, even if the Ritalin side effects are still humming wildly in others.
Crystal Castles still emanate the jagged electroclash sounds that cut them out as a singular outfit back in 2007/8, but rather than hurtle themselves even further into the depths of hostile, nihilistic sonic warfare, Glass and Kath have moved towards something surprisingly more accessible. The rush is very much still there, especially in the static-flecked adrenalin drop of opener ‘Fainting Spells’, and even more so on the gloriously frenetic spasms of ‘Doe Deer’s prime mosh material. But there are clear, almost daring elements of dreamy dance-pop glazing through their usual warzone electronica.
The softness spills in with first single ‘Celestica’, a soft-focus sure-shot with lush vox and bliss-out synths – a motif that’s continued on ‘Empathy’ and ‘Suffocation’, setting Glass’s gentle, delicately fuzzed melodies against the rising, palpitant waves of old-school rave. It’s a theme that runs concurrent with the newer, romantic stylings on offer here, and standout track ‘Baptism’ bellows this fantastically, its euphoric chorus noise glitched up nicely and matched in equal measures with restrained, throbbing bass. There’s a nod to the nostalgic raver in these samples, to which Kath’s new-school skill brings an invigorating energy.
His reputation as a programmer supreme is well-founded, but there are two noticeable chinks here; the squeaking, phone-beep sample that jars obnoxiously over ‘Celestica’s otherwise daydream flows, and the poorly equalised, high-frequency whip sample on ‘Birds’. Counteracting these lapses are Glass’s dexterous vocals, which display a mutable range that utilises all the FX amping to great effect. From the minimalist pop melodies on the twinkling, disco-tinted ‘Pap Smear’ to the more familiar but equally impacting psychotropic rage of ‘Doe Deer’, Glass proves to be just as capable of bewitching softness as she is the ferocious, frenzied growls that propelled their debut.
The fourteen tracks on this LP could definitely afford to shave away a number or two. ‘Violent Dreams’ and ‘Not In Love’ really wouldn’t be missed, and ‘Vietnam’, which starts off promisingly with a menacing, buzzing-hornet war siren, takes too long to jump off and proceeds to fall blandly when it does. Tracks such as the thick, fuzzed, Jónsi-sampling ‘Years Of Silence’ dwarf these fantastically, and despite the flatter numbers the fresh, unexpectedly pretty tropes that the duo venture into prove Crystal Castles are more than just a one-trick pony.
[Polydor; May 24, 2010]