Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Album Review: Crystal Castles - Amnesty (I) (2016)

With the departure of vocalist Alice Glass two years ago, there were serious concerns about what her absence would mean for Crystal Castles. And more generally, somewhat less amicably, quite a lot of debate around the true extent of her contribution to the duo's work across three albums.

Let me deal with that bit first: Ethan Kath is the brains behind the project - and it's essentially his beast to do whatever he wants with - but there's no question he'll miss the raw energy and pure anarchy of Alice Glass when it comes to a live setting. A more extraordinary front-person or on-stage presence he'd be hard pressed to find.

That part is true, but on the evidence of the just released album number four, Amnesty (I) - the first post-Glass outing - the music of Crystal Castles has lost none of its studio clout, and new vocalist Edith Frances is a more than adequate replacement. Even if the jury will remain out on the live show for the time being.

And so while Amnesty (I) essentially represents a new phase for Crystal Castles, it's business as usual in terms of Kath's approach, and it's his production genius that dominates the latest work in the same way it did all previous full-length offerings. That means an updated variation on the warped synthpop that Kath specialises in, multiple rave-style loops, and more trademark layers of distorted and chopped vocal FX. Most of all, Amnesty (I) maintains the prevailing sense of organised chaos and melodrama we saw across the three previous Crystal Castles albums. I personally find it a thoroughly intoxicating formula, and already this album has enjoyed high rote on my pod.

If there's a criticism, it's exactly that. It’s that we’ve been here before - three times - and the onus may have been on Kath to take more risks this time out. To perhaps offer up something quite different. Amnesty (I) is unlikely to win any new followers, but it'll certainly keep existing fans happy - reassured as they'll undoubtedly be that, Alice or no Alice, Crystal Castles is still very much a going concern.

Highlights include 'Fleece', 'Char' - probably the most mainstream radio friendly tune Kath has ever made, 'Frail', and the closer, 'Their Kindness Is Charade' (clip below).


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