Sunday, February 3, 2013

Albums of 2012 # 4: Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (III)

Compared to the first two Crystal Castles albums, from 2008 (I), and 2010 (II), self titled album number three feels a little bit like the band’s equivalent of a “pop” album.

Both of the earlier releases were slightly flawed efforts on account of each one containing at least a couple of tracks that were virtually unlistenable. Tracks so abrasive and inaccessible (to my delicate ears) they all but ruined the listening experience unless I was prepared to periodically activate the “skip” function. For all of the highlights on the first two albums, and there were certainly more than a few, (III) is the first Crystal Castles album I find myself loving from start to finish.
Anyone familiar with the work of Toronto’s Alice Glass and Ethan Kath will know that the only way to listen to the music of Crystal Castles is LOUD – preferably with the aid of headphones to shut out any peripheral or background noise. That isn’t really a recommendation, it’s a prerequisite for ensuring maximum impact. Crystal Castles exist only to be played loudly, very loudly. Or to play live, which I strongly suspect is very much the same thing.

(III) isn’t a pop album in any traditional sense of the word “pop”, but in context of the extremes that Crystal Castles tend to operate at – ranging from experimental industrial noise to cutesy synthpop – it sits dangerously close to the crossing-over end of the spectrum. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because in the hands of vocalist Alice Glass, even cutesy synthpop can be made to feel dissident and subversive.
Applying FX to the Glass vocal is critical to the album’s appeal; whether cut up or buried deep in the mix, wailing, screeching, or more orthodox singing, the voice of Alice Glass serves as an outlet for everything from rage, pain, and loss, to tenderness, serenity, and calm.  Sometimes all wrapped up within one track. A cross-section and wide range of emotional responses that Kath’s electro wizardry supplements perfectly.
It is no surprise that Crystal Castles have become firm concert and festival faves right across the globe in recent years. While the band’s sound is clearly heavily indebted to technology and the more sterile environs of a studio, there is just something so perversely visual about it. That probably has a lot to do with Glass being able to channel Angry Rock Chick 101 at whim, but it’s also about the kaleidoscope of colour and chaotic imagery created by Kath’s constantly challenging music.

I was gutted to have missed them in Auckland recently … wrong place, wrong time.

Highlights: ‘Plague’, ‘Wrath of God’, ‘Affection’, ‘Pale Flesh’, ‘Violent Youth’, ‘Telepath’, and the closer, the ever so slightly demented lullaby, ‘Child I Will Hurt You’.

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