Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles
Last Gang Records.

SCQ Rating: 88%

“Haven’t heard them but I’ve heard of them,” is probably the most apt phrase for the internet-era music industry. Being one of those nerds who constantly searches music zines for new records and catches the names of countless bands I’ve never heard, it’s also a phrase I find myself repeating endlessly. Little did I know that that very phrase would lead me to my biggest music-regret of 2007: missing a Crystal Castles show… where admission was $5. Although I missed the concert, I’m still grateful because that evening was the first time I decided to actually listen to this band that was making so many indie-headlines and remixing every indie-band – all without a record deal, label, or LP to speak of. Admittedly, I went download crazy, grabbing as much of the Untrust Us EP and Alice Practice EP (sold exclusively and quickly at their shows) as I could find. So nearly nine months later, I calmly consider picking up their official debut but wonder if my intimate knowledge of half the record might hinder any long-lasting enjoyment of hearing it again. By the time opener ‘Untrust Us’ comes to an end, I’m glad I caved.

With the odd exception, Crystal Castles is sequenced chronologically, meaning that the first six songs are nothing new to most CC fans. Despite some of these tracks being over two years old, they’ve each been polished, subtly extended or added to, providing a fresh edge to classics like ‘Crimewave’ and ‘Alice Practice’. The early download ‘1983’ is now ‘1991’, virtually unchanged, while ‘Xxzxcuzx Me’ through time or proper recording techniques now sounds awesome, instead of slightly annoying. Where the sequencing does betray the band’s historical order is appropriate, as Crystal Castles balances the Alice Glass vocals well with Ethan Kath’s instrumental work.

I heave another sigh of relief as newer material is peppered into the sequencing, namely because Crystal Castles prove capable of broadening their range without losing the sound that labeled them “8-bit Terrorists”. As much as I love the early shock’n’awe techniques that made ‘Air War’ and ‘Love and Caring’ so groundbreaking, a full sixteen track album of it would’ve stolen those songs’ ammunition and rendered the band a one-trick act. ‘Good Time’ features much of the same Atari-fueled, vocal splices but is laid-back, content to be clear-headed, while ‘Vanished’ improves on the no-wave pulse of ‘Crimewave’ by incorporating one of Kath’s throbbing beats to Van-She’s ‘Sex City’. It’s a stroke of genius, highlighting the CC’s dancefloor sex appeal without requiring the presence of Glass. Most interesting are the final couplet, ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Tell Me What to Swallow’, which presents the band’s most recent work and flexible songcraft. The former is unique in its vocal delivery, as Glass could be screaming her lyrics underwater, as well as its near-trance aspirations, but suffers from an over-done keyboard melody. What ‘Black Panther’ lacks in originality is redeemed with a last song that stands apart from everything Crystal Castles have done before now: a dreamy slow-core track that finds Kath playing guitar and Glass cooing into the mic. It’s a first for both members and an ideal end for a young band with a world of possibilities ahead of them.

Listening to this first full-document of the Crystal Castles experience, I somehow feel ready to forgive myself for that failed opportunity to catch them in all their live, unruly insanity. As great as it might’ve been, I’m happy to have experienced the band alone in my room, as much of their material now feels very personal (many of their songs feel like going out in Toronto at night). With the long-awaited release of this album now giving me a physical CD to recollect the songs I’ve loved since last summer and new ones I’m only beginning to obsess over, the secret’s out. With nearly a quarter of 2008 wrapped up, Crystal Castles is an early contender for album of the year.

Listen to Crystal Castles here.

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