Crystal Castles (II)
“Celestica,” the first single off the Crystal Castles second album, self-titled like the debut, initially comes across as a bit of a surprise. Most noticeably, frontwoman Alice Glass chooses to employ her singing voice instead of the often unintelligible yell-chirp that helped shaped most of the songs on I, and Ethan Kath’s production stays cleanly in club territory, with sweeping synths over a steady beat. Still, at closer listen, bits of what have made Crystal Castles a much-watched force are found: off-set computer blips, a general underlying noise, and a feeling, despite the superficial prettiness, of unease.
This – the combination of experimental electronica and dance-floor ready beats –also works as an appropriate descriptions of II as a whole, which oscillates between them depending on the song, or even the section within it. On their first album, these distinctions also existed, but the differences between the louder, noisier tracks and the clubbier ones were abrupt and at times, a little bothersome. On II, however, the duo finds a way to more successfully merge them. “Empathy,” for example, combines dancier production with nicely distorted vocals, and “Birds” is dark and melodic but still focused very much on the beat. Despite all of this, however, Crystal Castles have always been most compelling when they’re loudest and messiest, most on-edge. It’s that rawness that has made people interested in what they do, and so the good 30 seconds of noise in “Intimate” and shrieking – both from voice and machine – in “Fainting Spells” are welcome, and needed. Still, even here, the mess has a sense of control, making it more ominous, and more effective. Which means that songs like “Year of Silence” (which samples vocals from Sigur Ros’s “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur”) and “Vietnam” are both satisfyingly creepy without being overt, staying with you long after they’ve actually audibly ended.
If II had ended up being a haphazard release, it would’ve been easy enough to write Crystal Castles off as plagiarists, as poseurs. But it’s not haphazard at all. It’s a strong, deliberate album that is both unsettling and riveting (only the cover of Platinum Blonde’s “Not In Love” – not a particularly great song to begin with – fails in both purpose and intent), and absolutely convincing in asserting Crystal Castles’ relevance, and talent.