Crystal Castles – (III)

5 Dec

Since Crystal Castles’ proper formation in 2004 they have attracted a lot of attention.  The tongue-twisted Toronto duo of Ethan Kath and Alice Glass burst onto the scene in 2008 with their first self-titled LP which sounded like a panicked Tetris tournament at a rave.Crystal Castles gained more fandom with their second self-titled release, polarizing their songs into two categories: finger-suckers (“Not in Love”) and nose-bleeders (“Doe Deer”).  But, it worked. Something in between David Guetta and David Lynch.

That being said, Crystal Castles have always felicitously teetered on the line between two German terms: kitsch and zeitgeist.  Indie pop is a dog-eat-dog market and all it takes to fall into obsolescence is a drab release or more than three years of inactivity.  Crystal Castles released their third self-titled release last month, just over two years since (II).

Aside: As a gamer I had always figured that Crystal Castles took their name from the Atari game, particularly considering their early sound.  As it turns their name comes from lyrics in the She-Ra cartoon’s theme song.

She-Ra

He-Man’s twin sister.  Weak.

First of all, a third self-titled release, (III), is a bold move.  Few musicians have tried it: Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel.  Suicide was tasteful enough to stop at two, although a third would have been welcome.  In modern times, Weezer might be the only other band that risked the almost certain pretension that comes along with self-titling multiple works, but at least they had colors to associate with their self-titles.  Instead CC pays meticulous attention to their album covers.  (III) is no exception.  The cover is affecting–a black and white image of a burka-clad mother cradling her teargassed son in Yemen.  The record isn’t as “black and white” as its predecessor, but there is a tension between shrieking pain and soothing comfort at its heart.

For their third go-round, Ethan Kath surprisingly tossed his computers aside. The result is a poppier, polished approach to their back catalog.  Some tracks sound like deliberate dance club ploys for better or worse.  “Wrath of God” is a pleasant blend of house and filtered anxiety that would sound appropriate at any proper club if it weren’t for Glass’ distressed vocals.  On the other hand, “Affection” is a drugged-up club beat that plays less like alternative house music and more like a vodka tonic spilled on your shoe.

There are still a handful of aggressors on the new one.  “Pale Flesh” has a pop music made between padded walls feel.  And it’s unclear as to whether or not Glass is singing “listen to Beyonce” throughout.  “Insulin” violently breaks the pace as if it were getting too sweet, but it seems rather aimless.

“Sad Eyes” might not grab one at a first listen, but it likely will a second time around.  It’s a track that could have been spun during the booming nights of The Haçienda in Manchester.  “Transgender” sounds akin to some of CC’s Canadian neighbors in Grimes and Purity Ring; the beat plugs along quite pleasantly but is followed by the tedious “Violent Youth” which sounds as though Alvin of chipmunk fame was given too much E.

With its melodic twinkle and likely the closest Glass will ever come to Enya, “Child I Will Hurt You” is a gorgeous release, or perhaps a welcomed departure. Crystal Castles should focus on tracks like “Child” on future endeavors as they could really make an album more dynamic if tracked properly with a series of wind-ups and calm-downs.

Crystal Castles (III) is without a doubt an above average record, but one that has seen inflated praise.  It is largely listenable and some tracks are even worth talking about.  It’s just predictable.  If you liked the first two [self-titled] albums, you will like the third.  And if you didn’t, (III) won’t make any converts.  What’s most encouraging is that CC sound as good as they do considering Kath’s zealous cutting of his computerized umbilical cord.

Noteworthy Tracks: “Wrath of God,” “Sad Eyes” and “Child I Will Hurt You”

Rating: ***1/2

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