Release Date: Jun 8, 2010
Genre(s): Dance, Electronic
Record label: Fiction
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It would be a rather lazy over-simplification to merely crown Crystal Castles as the wickedest Toronto junkie-squatter-synth-speed-punk duo...ever. After all, not every Alice can at times gleefully crash her little body into a drum kit, while at others sound like an ethereal Annie Lennox displaced into a gutter. Bluntly speaking, the emotionally fragile might want to skip right over the gloriously malevolent salvo of noise that is second album opener “Fainting Spells.” But the militaristic electro-ska of “Doe Deer” may prove just as deadly.
After all of the awful shit Crystal Castles did in the wake of their success, a whole lot of people hoped their new album would be terrible. Sorry, haters: 2010's Crystal Castles improves on their (also self-titled) debut in nearly every way. The latest from the Toronto-based electro duo is reminiscent of the jump forward taken by Deerhunter between Cryptograms and Microcastle, or Fuck Buttons from Street Horrrsing to Tarot Sport.
I first saw Crystal Castles live in 2007, and after the show a friend described the music as "nihilist hipster shit." I disagreed with him, but I realized the assessment was not entirely unfair. Almost three years later, what's interesting to think about is how my friend's reaction might have been different if Alice Glass were a man, say, or if Ethan Kath were producing the same notes and melodies but playing a guitar instead of huddling behind a bank of electronics. Change those qualities and consider how friends and detractors might have recieved all of the controversy Crystal Castles has stirred up over the past two years.
Crystal Castles' self-titled debut helped take 8-bit synth tones into the mainstream. That jagged, strangely naïve sound of old-school video games is so distinctive that it could easily define the duo’s music instead of vice versa, but Ethan Kath and Alice Glass avoid that trap on their second, also self-titled album. Glass and Kath are still committed to the 8-bit assaults of their early singles and debut -- check the bookending blasts “Fainting Spells” and “I Am Made of Chalk” for proof -- but Crystal Castles covers more territory than that.
As far as debut albums go, 2008’s Crystal Castles was one of this decade’s most striking. Sounding quite unlike anything that came before, its 16 tracks cobbled together a variety of electronic sounds using rock dynamics, producing an electro-punk record that was as compelling as it was combustible. Eight-bit chirps, blasts of static and distorted synths collided violently with harsh, overdriven beats and Death From Above 1979 samples, while Alice Glass’ effects-laden shrieks kept the listener transfixed.
Crystal Castles’ second offering trades pleasureful pain for painful pleasure Crystal Castles self-titled debut LP was an album that would send fans of “serious music” for the hills, chased by a barrage of screeching Atari noise, uneven beat explosions and vocalist Alice Glass’ unearthly and oft-horrifying lupine scream. Explosive jigsaw tracks like “xxzxcuzx Me” and “Alice Practice” sounded like each of your brain cells was an alarm clock going off at quarter-second intervals. It was the stuff of tweakers’ daydreams and 8-year-olds’ nightmares.
Polarising is what copyright infringers, fan-bottlers and surly bastards [a]Crystal Castles[/a] do best. So it was only a matter of time before they polarised themselves. Recorded in a church in Iceland, a garage in Detroit and a log cabin in Ontario, it seems disparate environments have seeped into the bipolar sounds of their second album. The moments of calm beauty that studded their debut are more frequent, while the digipunk shriekfests are harder, colder and scarier.Whereas tracks like [b]‘Magic Spells’[/b] felt like brief pauses for breath between fits of rage, here CC attain a more contemplative space, leading us to suspect the leather-clad enfants terrible may have souls that crave saving.
Crystal Castles’ 2008 album kicked off a maelstrom of activity for Ethan Kath and Alice Glass. Their wild take on electro-pop turned heads wherever they toured, with Glass’ wild-eyed performances being a particular focus for local reporters. For some, the duo was like Kraftwerk fronted by Grace Slick, only Glass wasn’t the demure leader, content to stay behind the microphone and shout at the masses.
Every punk goes pro one day, and Crystal Castles are no exception. Upon emergence a couple of years back, Alice Glass and Ethan Kath came and glared at the world with the cynicism of Lydon, the nihilism of The Germs, and – in their harder moment – the brutal electronics of Atari Teenage Riot. Debut album Crystal Castles was a belligerently stitched together mix of chipcore fury, vaguely Satanic electro-pop and meandering ambient workouts.
The Canadian electronic duo Crystal Castles first attracted attention with their jarring juxtapositions: noise butting hard against what was called nu-rave at the time they emerged. The opening pairing of their second album suggests they mean to continue as they began, as the harshness of Fainting Spells gives way to Celestica, one of those swooning, melancholy European faux-classical melodies the Pet Shop Boys do so well. The album never gets that popcentric again, but it's closer in mood to Celestica than Fainting Spells.
A terrific return that retains all of the weirdness and edge of their debut. Chris Parkin 2010 Few recent indie bands have worked music fans and commentators alike into the sort of love-hate lather that Ontario’s gothic rave duo Crystal Castles did in 2008. First, Ethan Kath and Alice Glass conjured up a rare kind of parent- and old critic-baiting pop sound by refracting the most full-on, euphoric and comic elements from trance, rave and electro through the snot-flecked lens of their childhood punk rock.