Release Date: Apr 7, 2009
Record label: Touch and Go
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Experimental
Crystal Antlers first entered the public consciousness by way of last year's oft brilliant EP, which showcased a band unremittingly hashing out idea after idea in a frenzied cloud of sawdust, somehow making it all work. Lacking in self-consciousness and hell bent on exorcising the devil out of Victor Rodriguz’s organ and Johnny Bell’s wonderfully spirited vocal panic attacks, the Long Beach six-piece were a breath of fresh air for rock lovers who appreciate grit to polish and relish in a rough-hewn aesthetic too often lacking in music today. One year later and Crystal Antlers has cooked up one hell of an album with its debut full-length, Tentacles.
An enormous amount of blog buzz championed their EP, and six months later, Crystal Antlers released their first full-length, Tentacles. Surprisingly, the debut largely lived up to all the surrounding hype. Forgoing the engineering prowess of Mars Volta producer Ikie Owens, the sextet members produced the record themselves, resulting in a brittle, sonically noisy affair -- one that practically begs to be cranked.
Crystal Antlers are six sometime-chimneysweeps from Long Beach, California who make punk-ignited, psych-influenced, soul-fuelled garage rock. This is an angry, heartbroken soundtrack for unsettled times: two guitars, two drummers, bass and organ turn on one another like rabid dogs, then parade together with the poise and grace of Crufts cup-winners. The lo-fi barrage of noise renders Johnny Bell's lyrics indistinct, but his fury is never in question as he yelps and roars through Time Erased.
Painless Sleep, the first track on Tentacles, is a red herring. Victor Rodriguez begins with a clumsy triplet figure on the organ while the other players politely wait their turn to join in. In due time, Kevin Stuart and Damian Edwards are keeping time in slender rolls and mildly acrobatic but unobtrusive fills, and the paired guitars soon emerge heavy yet relatively discreet, distinguishable until the final, dispersive moments of the track.
In the hyper-hyped, blog-buzzed world of modern indie rock, bands can’t be content to strike only while the iron is hot—they have to thwack that ballyhoo while it’s just warming up, too. Take it from Crystal Antlers. The Long Beach, California, sextet started building a locust-sized buzz even with only a self-released EP to its name. They toured incessantly, criss-crossing the country in their veggie-powered schoolbus on the F Yeah Tour with the likes of Dan Deacon, Matt & Kim, and Monotonix.
Cold War Kids tabbed Crystal Antlers as their opening act on an upcoming tour-- a surprising move considering CWK represents, in part, blog-savvy music fans prioritizing the familiar over the daring, while Crystal Antlers trade in styles often treated with disinterest or sometimes outright derision. Antlers are a heavy and especially loud psych-punk band, but they lack the outsider cachet of metal or noise; their psychedelia is more shaggy than dreamy and they're not stone-rock enough to sidle up next to, say, Black Mountain or Comets on Fire. Then again, if there really is a crossover album in these guys, what would it even sound like? It probably wouldn't sound like Tentacles.
Well this is a damn shame. Sometime when you’re reviewing an album, adding the record label’s name to the article feels more like politeness than anything else. Really, who has ever run out and purchased something purely because it was on Polydor? Sure, it matters to yr indie labels, but even then, these days it’s questionable whether the presence of the words '4AD' or 'Matador' really says much beyond ‘guitar-based, probably quite good’? Bashing out this article, though, and the label is distracting to the point of wondering what the point of the rest of the piece is.
Crystal Antlers should have stuck with what worked on their 2008 EP. Tentacles, their debut full-length, sorely misses Ikey Owens's production skills and the general imagination displayed on that disc. Tentacles' more focused psych punk feels formulaic, underdeveloped and disappointing. [rssbreak] Mostly, it's Jonny Bell's barking that fails to convince.
So noise is a really popular thing right now? I mean, it seems like even those that only somewhat add some fuzz or buzz to their sounds are being touted as the best thing since sliced bread (for an example, see any review on Wavves. ) But what about those true musicians that are crafting some seriously good music because of it? What about those albums that are sprinkled and dashed with the right amount of ambience here, the right splash of calamity there or the loud, frenetic slamming over here? Somewhere along the way, a not so little band (up to six members now) from Long Beach decided to pull out an amazing EP last year. With 2008’s justly titled EP, Crystal Antlers exploded onto the scene with six, intense, incredibly amazing songs.
With this debut full-length, Long Beach noise-rock quintet Crystal Antlers continues with the same bold aesthetic choices that marked last year's acclaimed eponymous EP: The wobbly whine of Victor Rodriguez's Farfisa dominates the album, supported by frantic drums and percussion. It's a distinctive sound but also limiting. Rodriguez can't modulate his volume, and with bassist/vocalist Jonny Bell and drummer Kevin Stuart following suit, the latter on a piercing ride cymbal, Tentacles has a punishingly uniform sonic profile – loud as hell – that smears its songs into one another.