Claiming your music to be ‘ahead of its time’ and thus unappreciable is a cop-out. Furthermore, it does no justice to examples of truly pioneering music appreciated wildly before their time. Crystal Castles occupy the latter spectrum, with their emotionally high-brid of lo-fi and chiptune continuing to brutalize and thrill the closet bound freaks in all of us, with live shows that still overflow dance pits with ecstasy (and not necessarily in any taboo sense of the word). Such an experimental duo would only dishonour themselves without a drastic shake up for their third self titled release, which checks digital recording into rehab and tests the whims of its nullified audience with nauseating veracity and tracks that damn near breathe.
Even if Ethan Kath’s role as sole producer or the fact that each track is a one take wonder isn’t knowledge you’re trained to notice, its takes little effort to explore the intricacy of compositions that listen like deciphered brain waves even before they’ve drifted through your ears. The back to back second and third singles ‘Wrath of God’ and ‘Affection’ are noticeably less smashed down by extraneous digital distractions, and conventionally more chilled. III dotes on its homebrewed heritage, sure, but strives to match the hype and height accumulated since its grandfather’s 2008 debut.
In fact any and all expectations are distorted throughout, even once you’re comfortable with what you’ve been listening to. The butchered up DJ Sammy-like chipmunk vocals seen in ‘Kerosene’ suddenly appear clear in ‘Violent Youth’, whilst opening track ‘Plague’ shows CC’s iconic vocalist Alice Glass distort between her chilling cyber cries with a more fragile and human hark; all within the same song. There’s a bit of a recycled drag in the later minutes, but it’s accounted for by the finale ‘Child, I Will Hurt You’: the musical equivalent of stargazing.
The album artwork (a doctored version of Samuel Aranda’s award winning photo of a mother cradling her son during a street demonstration in Yemen) very accurately reflects the songwriting and its writer’s ethos. A safe haven between politically charged and personally afflicted, there’s disdain at the world from those who, being of it, seek a humanist justification in their disgust. The music matches each song name like a soundtrack to its ‘worst case scenario’ PSA, even when it’s as self damning as the Big Brother vibe in “never thought I was the enemy, I am the plague” or the ambiguous comment on an unwanted hand dealt in ‘Transgender’s “nothing in place of catalysts and you’ll never be pure again.”
Those never fully won over by Crystal Castle’s transcendental waltz through pessimistic synthpunk may benefit from a whirl of the group’s third eponymous spin. Layered with a little less 8-bit bop and having refining their faux goth surface into true depth, you have an album that’s accessible, unique, and best of all promising.
Words > Graham Ashton