Facebook is currently trying to convince us that it is like a swimming pool or a cake. Following this logic, that means buzz bands are like hot slices of pizza... It looks good, resembles what you want, you tell yourself and everyone at your table how great it is. You can’t wait to sink your teeth in, but then, when you bite down, you get burned! The magma-like tomato sauce of the second mouthful then burns your burn. You can’t wait for it to cool down, you know what you want and you want it now. You keep munching, smiling politely, whilst deluding yourself that you have an asbestos mouth; you could wait a while for the heat to die down or you could choose to give up pizza forever and go back to steak and ale pies...
Buzz bands are like hot slices of pizza because they lure you in with their fresh new ideas and their promise that they won’t let you down. You get this instant and gratifying high from your discovery. By the time you hear the second chorus you’re already thinking of those late nights and road trips you’ll share together. You dream a little dream of a future. You tell yourself that this is real love, not a cheap thrill. Then the first album ‘drops’ and it can be a lot like getting your mouth burned. You rush in regardless, and continue telling everyone how great it is, because you have to, don’t you, I mean, you’ve been saying how incredible this band are for months and months, so you cannot be wrong... Then you wait for the second record, and it’s much the same thing, and you sort of feel burnt, so inevitably you join in the forward-slash backlash and then you move on, upgrading to the next shiny new band....
When Crystal Castles arrived, I had gotten sick of the never ending boom and bust cycle of
buzz new music (but seemingly nowhere near as sick as they had gotten with the status quo at the time...). To my mind, far too many acts had been and gone in a flash, without really bettering their first 7-inch. In a post-Strokes, post-Killers world, indie-rock had gotten derivative and the blogosphere was slopping up the same electro-lite hype-shite, day in, day out, and none of it had the charm of the Postal Service, the raucousness of No Age or the soaring suss of Cut Copy. Disappointment reigned rained supreme. My apathy quickly turned to hate, and lo! then there was Crystal Castles, rubbing people up the wrong way, making a racket on bills with HEALTH, sticking a spork into 8-bit electro-pop and singing in what sounded like tongues. Those whip-lashed anthems, the wailing and that rising pool of fiery synths were a relief, because finally there was a band who didn’t want to be ‘liked’ by a small pool of blogger, but they didn’t want to be adored by the mass media neither. CC didn’t play any ‘game’, they just made music that sounded like they were playing a GameBoy. Thankfully, they weren’t indulgent arse-gazers either, but they clearly wanted to entertain themselves. The fact that most people were going to love to hate them had me hooked. I remember thinking ‘finally, a band worthy of the Hype Machine froth!’ This pixellated-goth duo with their punk-as-fuck 'tude gave me something to believe in... and they’re yet to disappoint. However...
I’ve listened to iii, the new Crystal Castles album about 30 times, and as CC fan and as a critic, whose J.O.B. it is to form an opinion and to explore the record fully, then attempt to
eloquently explain my findings, I’m kind of stumped. The louder I play it, the more I love it. I then listen to the previous two albums, and I’m not sure it’s quite as good, and then sometimes this seems light years ahead of it. Sometimes it seems like a prequel and I start to think they’re still peddling the same thing, caught in their own grooves, somehow becoming derivative of themselves, and it’s about this point in my confusion that I find myself awestruck because I don’t know what I really think, but at least I’m thinking... Mostly, I’ve gotten totally lost in iii’s labyrinth of tenderness. Tender in both senses of the word, because like most everything they’ve released to date, this record deals in raw aggression, and then soothes the wound(s) with a lush blanket of cold wave. It’s the softer side of this band that really throws me. They swerve and dodge so much, it’s easy to mistake honesty for irony, coolness for nerdom, pleasure for pain, and vice versa... With its inverted echoes that twinkle and bend, ‘Transgender’ is pretty typical of their softer side, in which a reverb-drenched beat is doused in quivering textures and caressed by Alice Glass at her sweetest (or perhaps saddest), but as ever the come hither siren call seems to only lure your ship toward the rocks as the rimshot rolls to a glorious crescendo.
I’m used to feeling seasick and confused when listening to Crystal Castles, but the track on iii that has truly thrown me is album closer ‘Child, I Will Hurt You’ because it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Blonde Redhead or This Mortal Coil record. Yes, I kid you not, they’ve only gone and released a song that gives me/you goosebumps, what the hell are they doing?
Fear not! for this is not a band softening or - excuse the journo cliche - maturing. Christ no! They still bring the party anthems, especially on ‘Violent Youth’, which is one of the finest moments they’ve thus far saved to their laptop and shared with the world. Then there’s the album's segue track ‘Insulin’, which is a brutal blast of ‘is my stereo broken’ noise. Meanwhile, opener ‘Plague’ is to evil-metal, what much of the previous album ii was to shoegaze. The way in which they masterfully transfigure a genre and force it to fit their dark storm of pixels is - perhaps accidentally - the most powerful message this album sends.
Sure, you can read between the lines and hear this album as yet more playing hard to get. A game of prodding and poking that only makes us love them more. You can hear them cackling and screaming “can you hear us? Does anybody hear us” (on stand out track ‘Wrath of God’) as if they’re finally asking us to justify our blog love, whilst putting just enough thudding and squalls of noise (and slo-mo thunderclaps) into the mix to separate themselves from an older, wiser, stuck up bunch of music snobs, looking on and gawpin’ into their world, expecting to find some pretentious art, when all they ever wanted to do was have some fun, and if anyone loved to hate them, it was a bonus.
I still can’t make up my mind whether Crystal Castles peaked too early and are now coasting, or if this is their new peak. I’m not sure if they’re even the sort of band that has peaks and troughs, they will just continue to be, until they quit. Mostly, I can’t decide if I was just hoping to be disappointed so I could write a review that sounds as infuriated as Alice Glass
or loved it so much I could write her a fawning fanboy love letter-as-a-review, filled with redacted passages and creepy stories. All I really know for sure is that if iii was a pizza it would be kinda disgusting to look at, it would never really cool down and it would probably give me indigestion, but it would taste absolutely delicious.
8Sean Adams's Score