Since entering the ring in 2010 with their stunningly eclectic debut Star of Love, it’s been rather hard to measure the sizeable mark that is Crystal Fighters. Their music’s literal mix of something-for-everyone won them a slot on Jools Holland, a tour with Foals and sold out shows across the UK; all part of their attempt to redefine the dance experience and make it more accessible to the rock solid masses. The wait lifting for their sophomore album was made harder with the uncertainty of which of the many parked avenues would be wandered further, presuming they’d even go down those roads again. So, to some and yet also no-one’s surprise, Cave Rave is an existential tribal trip that sheds a degree of synth to embrace the five-piece’s connection to the Basque country, and at its best can take charge of your summer playlist. In fact that’s a warning they should put on the box.
Whilst its predecessor drew inspiration from the pages of an opera writer lost to madness, Cave Rave emerged after the group’s core trio Sebastian Pringle, Gilbert Vierich, and Graham Dickson isolated themselves in the aforementioned land they love. Whatever went on in that musical incubator can only be expressed in colourful metaphors, but what we got from it is songwriting that’s non-stop contemplative and very malleable. In the case of opener ‘Wave’ it’s the idea that “in a galaxy of truth” we are all one collective in a physical and figurative sense, and though that does sound like the plot of a musical written by Neil Degrasse Tyson it’s one of many nice thoughts to ponder as you listen on through.
Even if they’ve been a talking point of Crystal Fighters since day one, the traditional instruments return with a vengeance. You may not know how to pronounce txalaparta or txistus but you’ll sure as hell know what they sound like after their heavy usage in the symbiotic single ‘You & I’ and stripped down ‘No Man’. Meanwhile Hispanic and African dance and Mexican electronic music 3bal also now sit alongside the folk and psychedeliape, with the album’s latter half dripping far more technical input. ‘Seperator’ smashes together an almost unheard of mix of tribal drumming with tone generators, ‘Are We One’ poses its question with a techno exercise-video inspired accompaniment, and ‘These Nights’ invites our old friend D&B on a far more relaxed journey than he’s used to.
As you might’ve ascertained there’s the same sharing-board approach to composition, but unlike Star of Love the heightened reverence for Basque music means there’s less disparity between tracks. Without obvious dubstep or the like some numbers (particularly ‘Bridge of Bones’) don’t have much identity, but the payoff is a collection of songs that sound as though they were actually written as a collection. The only drawback then is seasonal; the album serves its purpose in seeking this solitary moment in time and space where we can feel part of ‘Everything’, but in actuality, and in contrast with the otherwise excellent final song’s title, some will feel at one with the vibe whereas plenty will feel stuck in a small corner of the musical world.
No less the musical equivalent of The Mighty Boosh than before, Cave Rave lives up to its name with a sound that’s enclosed and less inviting to all, yet it remains a firmly worthwhile purchase thanks to excellent songwriting, deep respect for otherwise unpopular source music and clever consideration for the aspects that not only made Crystal Fighters a great live act, but an incomparable one.
Words > Graham Ashton