For those expecting the new Crystal Castles record to approach or surpass their debut effort, you can stop reading this now. LCD Soundsystem’s astonishing This Is Happening improved upon Sound of Silver, which appeared on every credible “best of the decade” list. However, that polarizing Crystal Castles’ debut was more complete than the top-heavy Sound of Silver. Those few who called it inconsistent are the same hipsters clamoring over the one trick pony that is Sleigh Bells. The hope was that Ethan Kath and Alice Glass may be capable of delivering another neurosis-inducing tour de force. What we get with the sophomore release is a more than capable follow-up; it just doesn’t approach the summit that the band previously inhabited.
Although there are plenty of stand-outs, I don’t get the point of all the synthetic distortion. It almost sounds like Steve Albini (Nirvana’s In Utero and Failure’s Magnified) produced these fuzzy lo-fi sounding tracks. What happen to the pristine production of “Air Wars” and “Crimewave”? Luckily, that static is limited to just a few songs, including album opener “Fainting Spells” and the almost inaudible minute and a half long first single “Doe Deer.” The effect is used transitionally in the Sigur Ros-sampling “Year of Silence.” The foundation of the track has loads of promise but falls a bit short of previous sample-heavy tracks (probably an unfair comparison to the HEALTH remix “Crimewave”).
Although Crystal Castles may have set the bar too high on their previous release, the album is certainly one of the best of 2010. One area in which the band has grown is with the vocal manipulation of Glass’ voice. She actually sings on this record, which makes some of the tracks more accessible than previous releases (see album standout “Pap Smear”). Kath puts Glass’ vocals through various filters on most of the record. The most extreme vocal manipulation is on “Vietnam,” another standout that would have fit seamlessly on the first album. The comparisons to Karin Dreijer Andersson are completely ridiculous, although Glass’ voice transcends gender on “Empathy,” my favorite song on the record. Kath selfishly turns down Glass way down in the mix much too often.
Although Crystal Castles seem content using old formulas, they do explore new ground on tracks like “Birds.” I wonder if Kath broke out his guitar for the first time since his days in a GG Allin cover band. At least he’s not the former guitarist from Poison The Well. The new sound is welcomed, and I hope he continues to experiment with it. The album was previously scheduled for a June 8th North American release. That date was pushed up to April 23 when the album was leaked.