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Music Review: Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (II)

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As mentioned earlier on Blogcritics, the duo of Ethan Kath and Alice Glass have returned in 2010 to make another clashing combination of pretty and punishing electronic music. On their debut 2008 self-titled record, they managed to wrestle back and forth with their talents of getting listeners to dance to one track and then annihilate the room they’re in with the following track.

In this day and age of the blog-culled single, it is quite likely that many fans of the band only cozied up to the more excellently accessible tunes from their debut record (such as “Alice Practice,” and “Magic Spells”). However, as it becomes immediately apparent on their second record, Crystal Castles (II), the duo forcefully maintain their multiple personalities.

The first track off of the new disc is “Fainting Spells,” which could easily form the chaotic basis of a new sequel for a Poltergeist movie soundtrack. Overcoming a menacing background loop, Glass’s fractured voice sounds as if it’s coming from within a television. This rather ghostly beginning that has moments of stressful, hard beats could set one’s mood to off-kilter mode. Kids sporting glo-sticks and expecting a smooth entrance will undoubtedly whimper.

Then, as can be expected, Crystal Castles switch to satin. “Celestica” is an exceptionally pretty tune that can be either danced to, chilled out on, or night driven. Glass’s echoed vocals float peacefully over stuttered synths, while a steady dance tempo pushes the song as a sort of contrast. This is the kind of song that the clubbers like, but can obviously frustrate the noise mongering fans. As the album proceeds, I imagine both groups can get rather confused. If one has the patience, it is worth perfecting a balance of interest with these guys.

As the album continues, it is clear that frenzy and bombast, as well as Glass’s primal side, are interspersed amidst cooling tunes. “Doe Deer” is a mad dash rush into a wall, while “Birds” fluctuates between hard rock and eerie instrumental moments that sound as if one is listening to a metal grinder at work. The group dabbles with darker feelings in “Year of Silence,” which stands out if only because it sounds as if one has to march to it during stormy, oppressive weather.

Speaking of weather, if one can wade through the turbulent moods of the first half of the record, one will find himself in the Second Half of Excellent Dance Beats. This is where the album really shows its strength.

A fine stretch begins with “Empathy” and finally putters out seven tracks later after “Intimate.” Within this stretch is the phenomenal “Suffocation,” which despite its building energy has some wrenchingly depressing lyrics. “Pap Smear” has a fantastic opening that sounds like one is warping through space. But just as one is getting into the dance beat and Glass’s panicked vocals, one may incidentally peek at the lyrics and find that they’re dancing to a song about abortion. Yeah, get those dance shoes on!

One of the best songs on the record is the cover of Platinum Blonde’s “Not in Love,” which is essentially about finding oneself at the end of a long-term, purely sexual relationship. Like most songs on the record, the vocals aren’t straightforward and actually might resemble what an elf might sing like. The layered synthesizer effects, as well as the explosive ending sequence can easily make this tune an antidote for a slow day.

Finally, a fervent “Intimate” puts a veritable cap on the record. 

Crystal Castles have managed to build favorably upon their debut’s success with Crystal Castles (II). If fans could have it, the group would put out catchy dance tunes sprinkled with mayhem every year. But inevitably, music artists do change. Hopefully, the third record from this duo will continue to impress those who have excitingly enjoyed what they’ve heard so far.

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About Evan Mauser

  • http://vivbizclub.com dinesh

    Really wanted to see these guys when they came out to San Francisco earlier this month. Loved the first album (and really have just gotten into 8-bit music all around). Need to listen to the 2nd album more, but I’m sure they’re awesome live.