As the progression of pop music steadily increases, wild mutations occur more frequently and die down just as fast. A generation with access to instant media consumption has only aggravated this phenomenon, making the desire for the new thing a condition hopelessly untreatable. Crystal Castles solves the problem of its early, sporadic releases of amazing-yet-unsatisfying seven inches with a self-titled full-length album that lives up to the hype.
Ethan Kath and Alice Glass make up the Toronto-based music act Crystal Castles. The duo’s first album, 2006’s “Alice Practice,” brought them into an Internet-music scene still raving over an obscure Justice EP and Sebastian’s MySpace. Its 8-bit sound, produced by placing an Atari chip into a keyboard, was the perfect low-fi response to Ed Bangar’s hard and heavy 808 batteries. Filling the gap successfully between indie-friendly house and noise art punk, incredible hype followed at an unstoppable pace. While well-deserved, it was definitely what the band has relied on until now.
But in no way was this hype a bad thing for the band or its fans. What made Crystal Castles so great was, first and foremost, its cutting-edge song craft – but just as important was what it left to be desired. Well-spaced, small releases with no filler left everyone craving for anything Crystal Castles touched. Now, two years later, with the release of its debut album, the band has delivered its strongest statement and arguably its best.
The album’s first track, “Untrust Us,” is noticeably smoother than Crystal Castles’ first releases, but the crispness of the production adds considerable depth and an identifiable dimension that makes a great song. The vocoder harmonies that rhythmically pulse throughout the track are haunting. While the first comparison that comes to mind would be The Knife, this comparison only points to a new sound Crystal Castles has created. Scattered throughout the album’s new tracks are older ones from previous EPs. Although tracks like “Alice Practice” and “Air War” are excellent songs, they make the beginning of the album somewhat disjointed. With the amount of new material on the album, these older songs do not seem necessary and are sometimes extraneous.
After the first few tracks, the album gains clarity. The newer tracks lose some of the rawness of their early seven inches, but their cleaner production allows for richer harmonies and vocoder layering. Despite how well the album captures the band’s essence and all it has come to mean within these last couple of years, the amount of material and the range of songs leave listeners wanting more.
A minor flaw – having nothing to do with the quality of the music – is that the album gives what we were all expecting: a lot of good songs. But in being completely satisfied, there is something to be desired. Gone are the days waiting for the new remix or EP to leak; after listening to this album it’s hard not to feel that Crystal Castles has shown us everything they can do. Kath and Glass are extremely talented musicians, and I am sure they have many more ideas. By making an expectantly perfect Crystal Castles album, however, they made their work under this project complete.
Is this a great album? Yes. Will Ethan Kath and Alice Glass continue to make music? I hope so. Does there need to be another Crystal Castles record? Not necessarily. So what’s the point?
Paul Cambon is an architecture junior and music director for KCPR, San Luis Obispo, 91.3 FM. He’s also completely full of it.