Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (II)

Release Date 24/05/2010 (Polydor)

By Chris Gilliver

Crystal Castles was my favourite album of 2008. I loved the fusion of 8-bit Atari geek techno with Alice Glass’ compellingly deranged and largely inaudible punk shriek. But above everything I loved that, through it all, they still knew how to craft pop tunes that Stock Aitken and Waterman could only dream of. It was such a brilliant mess of an album. One minute you were stuck in a Las Vegas slot machine with “Xxzcuzx Me” to be brought up mdma high with “Vanished”, and finally plunged into the abyss with “Tell Me What To Swallow”. I haven’t read any of their notoriously difficult interviews, and when I saw them live they were iconic so this impression remained untarnished…until now.

Crystal Castles (II) is a very different beast to its predecessor. Where before Alice Glass howled, shrieked and occasionally sung, she now manifests herself in two distinct personas: to be biblical the demon and the angel. On album opener “Fainting Spell” it is the demon that is evidence. She screams like Emily Rose. For the most part she sounds perfectly angelic, her real voice softened and hidden by layers of fx. It is to the album’s detriment that Glass remains distant and unseen throughout, her voice reduced to an effect where before it was driving the beat on.

There is very little of the punk vibe remaining – where before Crystal Castles could be mistaken for an up-tempo indie band with dance influences, they are now a full-on dance act. When this album goes “rock”, as it does with “Birds”, we reach the album’s low point with a pointless metal-tinged mood killer. Even the old school computer game element is toned down (though still obvious throughout), so what we’re left with is something that is closer to mainstream dance – single “Intimate” was listed for Radio 1 airplay. There are far fewer hooks. Catchy riffs are replaced with an attempt by Ethan Kath to substitute mood for accessibility. This is a far less forgiving listen than their debut.

So where does this leave us? Surprisingly, despite subtracting many of the elements that made them so compelling, it leaves us with something really quite amazing. Upcoming single “Celestica” is a pretty, melancholy thing that slowly builds into something quite beautiful. “Baptism” is a perplexing and euphoric trance shout-along with a skippy, bleepy verse that expertly builds to the volcanic chorus. Featuring Sigur Ros, “Year of Silence” is a showcase for Kath’s skills (who is after all the real genius behind the band). Somehow he manages to make the world’s most beautiful band sound evil, but even then he pulls it round into a sparkling evocation of twinkling lakes and waterfalls.

“Not In Love” is Crystal Castle (II)’s answer to Vanished. It’s a brilliantly sweet (but not saccharine) dance pop tune. But my favourite moment is the downbeat Blade Runner-esque “Violent Dreams” (a possible soundtrack to sci-fi gothic funeral), and the sinister “Vietnam”, which bristles with threat and suspense.

It’s a remarkable album, very different in feel and style to its predecessor, yet it still jumps from happy, to poppy, to sweetness and sunshine, to hope and light, to melancholy, to sinister and satanic evil, and manages to sound cohesive. It’s time to buy tickets to see them live again. After all, Alice Glass’s real power is onstage, as a front woman, shrieking and writhing like a woman in the grips of a demonic possession. See you there.

One response

3 06 2010

and practice she did.

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