Release Date: Jul 19, 2011
Record label: Recreation Ltd
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
The titular duality of Two-Way Mirror proves apt, as Crystal Antlers’ second long-player is one of those records that seems to bisect naturally. To wit, the first half is fueled by the aggression and intensity that Jonny Bell and Crystal Antlers brandish so effortlessly. Side B reveals a ramped dosage of prog influence and experimentation, the results of which are often effective.
After delivering one last album to Touch & Go before the label closed its doors, Crystal Antlers kept plugging away with Two-Way Mirror. Since 2009’s Tentacles was a self-recorded record as well, the production is unchanged, and the band maintains its sense of style and its psychedelic/garage tonality. The biggest difference with this album is in Jonny Bell’s voice.
What better symbol of DIY self-reliance than the tourvan? Ever since the Merry Pranksters painted a school bus in psychedelic colours and burned out east to introduce the squares of middle America to this new thing called LSD, piling into a cramped vehicle and hitting the freeway has been a key ritual of the US counterculture. With their Raymond Pettibon artwork and pedigree on punk label Touch And Go, [a]Crystal Antlers[/a] would seem to be rockers of a Black Flag vintage.But the news these Long Beach long-hairs have toured the country in a vegetable-powered vehicle connects them to an earlier, earthier ethos. We’re talking punks and hippies.
After a couple seconds of light feedback, drum adjustments, and general milling about, "Jules' Story" roars to life and assures us that Crystal Antlers are still a band of volcanic force maintaining the long-haired spirit of 1968 on their second LP. There's enough hurtling Echoplex riffs and organ squall to freak out the squares, but it's all wrapped in three-minute chunks, with verses, choruses, and bridges, prog-psych with all the boring parts sucked out. But despite that opening, just about everything else surrounding the band has changed, and not necessarily for the better.
Crystal Antlers definitely know something about cruel twists of fate: The Long Beach neo-psychedelic band holds the dubious distinction—or high honor, depending on how you look at it—of having the last new record in the Touch and Go catalog to its name, its 2009 debut Tentacles released around the time that the venerable indie imprint underwent a drastic downsizing. While you’d be hard-pressed to say that bad luck dampened the group’s creative energies, it’s also tough to argue that the upheaval didn’t negatively impact the critical acclaim and commercial possibilities that were building up for the buzzed-about band. But in the case of Crystal Antlers, you could say what doesn’t break up your band only makes you stronger, because how much more do have to lose after you’ve endured revolving-door lineups and the once legendary label you’re on shuts down for new business after what could’ve been your breakthrough effort? Perhaps it’s reading too much into things, but Crystal Antlers’ self-released sophomore effort Two-Way Mirror sounds like the work of a group that’s made it through to the other side, taking stock of where it’s been without letting that get in the way of where they’re going.
I first heard of Crystal Antlers just after I saw Comets on Fire play one of their final shows. My 18 year old self was a little unhappy to see Comets on Fite go, so I was ecstatic to discover a band that was sure to carry their gleaming psych-rock torch. They played in a similar style, had a reputation for energetic live shows, and were also from Southern California.
Originality is a consistently overrated musical concept, to my mind at least. For every single barnstormingly executed piece of genre cut-and-paste, there’s a thousand awful prog rock mutant halfbreeds. There are occasions, upon reading Pitchfork or (more frequently) its cooler little brother Altered Zones; when I fold my arms and may be heard to exhale aloud “Just write something that sounds like The Stooges, please?” It often feels that musicians have forgotten that passion, conviction and intensity can more often than not be just as good an idea as…well, a good idea in itself.
Earlier this year, Patrick Galbraith’s much-circulated Map of Metal, a Flash-based taxonomy of devil-horned music post-Sabbath, cartographically charted a genre’s stylistic migrations from the fatherland, its allies, its diaspora, its outposts in other stylistic territories. Although executed with more gloss than scholarship, unwieldy to navigate, and unworried with justifying its distinctions, its visualization is an apt and fundamentally percipient one. From a forward-looking musician’s Boer-like reconnoitering of new sonic space to the way that the arbitrary divisions of genre change both history and future like borders drawn in newly-autonomous lands, there’s an underlying geography to be traced across the musical world.
Long Beach psychedelic pop-rockers Crystal Antlers emerged in early 2008, championing the late 1960’s experimental revival that’s become so trendy, whetting blogger appetites with a handful of singles, an EP, and a well-received debut LP. This summer, they finally return to the surf-rock stage with their sophomore effort, Two-Way Mirror. The product of a group writing retreat to a barn in costal Mexico, the jumbled and raucous album stops short of Crystal Antlers’ widely hailed debut Tentacles, with few redeeming elements.
Not so long ago, Crystal Antlers were a fascinating new band, the latest in the line of palpably uncategorisable groups from Long Beach, California (others being Black Flag and the Minutemen, of course). In 2008 they emerged for the first time with their eponymous, limited edition debut EP, a six-song affair that was probably the best in the format to be released that year. Crystal Antlers were a deeply original proposition, marrying the wilder moments of the MC5 with Safe As Milk-era Captain Beefheart in a messy, confused but often-brilliant noise.