Crystal Castles '(III)'
The third full-length album from Toronto outfit Crystal Castles is a curious thing. There are times while it plays that I’m not entirely sure I’m listening to music at all. The ominous chordal soundwaves that underpin most of (III) implode and roar under devastating compression. The percussion is rendered in thick sub-bass kick (just a murky vibe really) and minimal bright snares. Vocalist Alice Glass refuses categorisation or position; her contributions come and go, providing texture on some tracks and hooks on others. She haunts the band more than fronts it.
And in all this, there is a tremendous amount of subtraction and disorientation. It takes a while but sooner or later this absence becomes the band’s main concept here. These two musicians appear utterly obsessed with evasion and disguise. More care has been put into what is not on this record than what can be heard. This is the schematic.
It plays out on every song. The epic synths of opener ‘Plague’ are sucked dry and side-chained into a swampy presence more than a riff, all while Glass lets loose a reverberated wail. "I am the plague", she chants, like some horrifying cheerleader. ‘Kerosene’ is a brighter mix with tight leads but still that same off-putting dread floats around. From there it raves up a little and tracks like ‘Wrath of God’, ‘Affection’ and ‘Pale Flesh’ all come across like bent anthems, incorporating tighter hooks that let a little (strobe) light in. I much preferred the latter half of the album where things take a much more dynamic turn: the songs and verses found here are either brazenly distorted or more gently and tightly considered for headphone listening. There is, across the whole album, an admirably organic and human feel to the rhythms.
So I’m in mixed minds about this. I think I like the idea of it a bit more than the sound. It’s a real boon of the time we live in that such a weird and disturbing EDM-influenced sound circulates so readily. It hasn’t always been as such. So I’m loath to dismiss Crystal Castles when they do this instead of an album full of on-grid bangers, 80s nostalgia or straight-up harsh noise. Instead, it’s easy to hear this and imagine the duo making a very, very fine record in the future.
But right now, in the heart of (III), more is dismissed than claimed. No matter how far into their career this the band are, they are still sorting through their aesthetic. It’s a bit of a bummer but all things considered, a band this interested in finding the edges of things can never really be considered a failure.
Ian Keith Rogers