Not quite the same Atari 2600-induced acid trip as the first album, version 2 by Crystal Castles plays on a different level. It’s lighter, but still quirky and provocative.
Singer Alice Glass and musician Ethan Kath quickly built up a cult of fans a couple of years ago. You can find dozens of fan-made videos on YouTube, many of them arty collages. Crystal Castles’ style splices electro, 80s dance, screamo, and shoegaze rock. Listening to the first album felt like being inserted inside a NES video game played on a broken TV set.
Here, Crystal Castles don’t attempt to duplicate the 8-bit chaos nor the manic depressive contrasts between tracks. Come on, the new album cover depicts a goth girl visiting a cemetery; this group isn’t playing bubblegum pop. Electronic feedback and deformed sound samples frequently penetrate the synthesizers, bass, and drums. Crystal Castles still produce ominous tones, but in a slightly poppier way. More echo gives the sequel a shoegaze atmosphere.
Glass and Kath ride the border between music and noise, melody, and gleeful alienation. For instance, “Celestica,” contains a repeated glitch that sounds like somebody scratched the tape. But it’s cleverly accenting the dance beat. Sometimes Crystal Castles want to disturb the audience, most obviously with the first and last tracks. “I Am Made of Chalk” totally sounds like a kitten being drowned in a bathtub.
Like electronic Play-Doh, Crystal Castles mash and grate vocals. Glass sings like a Transformer on “Intimate.” During “Doe Deer,” her voice decays into skidding tires. There’s less screaming on this album and more breaking into distant ghost-like melodies, like the bittersweet “Not in Love.”
I definitely like most of the songs, but I think they’ve missed out on enough big beats and hooks. Crystal Castles’ debut hit like a sonic boom. Only “Suffocation” comparably pulls like the older songs. Its insistent dance beat prods you off the sofa with its zippery bass and blustery keyboard. On the other hand, “Year of Silence” and “Violent Dreams” drone on too long. Running video game music through a shredder has limits, I guess. This record isn’t as intensely interesting as the first.