Crystal Castles Crystal CastlesCrystal Castles (II)
Remember that in the beginning, when they only had a 7” of a crappy recording and a really bad rep in Toronto nightclubs, Crystal Castles already sounded like one of the promising names on the budding scene that was just beginning to be called new rave, and which was going to change our lives. It turns out that new rave didn’t change our lives, although it probably made some people’s lives happier and more intoxicated for a whole intense, frivolous summer. And as far as what we heard on “Crystal Castles” (2008), it turned out that Alice Glass and Ethan Kath were more “dangerous punk that tears up hotel rooms” types than the kind of pill-poppers who hug each other and stay up three nights in a row partying non-stop. They were called “the chiptune Sex Pistols” for their videogame melodies that were torn apart and later re-contextualised in songs screamed at the top of their lungs, with an amorphous structure because the theme was always the emitting of raw noise. The songs were surprisingly good, and so were the 8bit sequences; many chiptune purists got irritated with them, however, calling them shameless social climbers —as if anybody cared about that— and their ability to kick up a fuss seemed infinite. 2009 will be a year remembered for the large number of festivals that these two managed to sabotage, for the fights they got into, for their personal and group excesses, for the growth of their status –headliners at all sorts of events and with a really faithful following– and also for the increase in number of their detractors. The Pistols were also called the public enemy number one of morality. There are those people who hate Crystal Castles, who can’t stand the sight of them, and who wish they would just disappear from the face of the earth. All of this has to be kept in mind. They were punks. What has happened is that now they are also ravers. Again. Maybe for the first time.
Before the arrival of “Crystal Castles (II)” there were two clear positions: fans and enemies who had their knives ready, and two a priori ways to understand their music: people who think that their form is punk, and people who have the feeling that Crystal Castles are punks deep down, mutant troublemakers who enjoy spiritual more than material chaos. In other words, it seemed that the first album was a noisy challenge, a sequence of arcade melodies, machines with their guts out, and a drunk girl screaming while swallowing down bits of her liver—but really it was just a provocation without greater ambitions. You have to get this nuance: Crystal Castles don’t want to bother you with violence, but rather with the unexpected. Their attack isn’t frontal and by force, but rather from behind, with the intelligence of Machiavelli. Negative comments have been made about “Crystal Castles (II)” because it seems it’s not the same album they made before. People hear that the protesting voices have sweetened, and become less angry. And it’s your own fault—if you are one of those people—for thinking like that. What the two Canadians have done is work on another of their many creative facets; here they show us their sensitive, euphoric side. This shows that they don’t only have bile, but also deep, passionate emotions, while they continue to create the same wake of confusion, chaos and anti-personnel mines as with their first LP. So, you step in here, and you don’t know when you’re going to step on one, and it might be a miniature bomb that destroys your eardrum–the one minute thirty seconds of “Doe Deer,” which they even put out on vinyl at an exaggerated price—the seductive caress to techno rhythm for big sound systems called “Suffocation,” which is something like the “ Being Boring” (Pet Shop Boys) of Crystal Castles, which seem different but are really one and the same. Like we were saying, you have to look deeper.
Anyone who says that there is no evolution here is lying: it is as simple as realising that they have gone from angry chiptune to ironic trance, or maybe it isn’t even ironic, which would make the album even greater. Anyone who says that there has been a change, but for the worse, should keep in mind that although it’s true that “Crystal Castles (II)” contains filler—I admit that I could do without some of the end, particularly “Violent Dreams” and “Intimate” —the first album was an album with flaws that managed to seem bigger and more important than it really was, thanks to the impact of the youthful idea behind it, its bet on confusion and painful eardrums. The idea, we must insist, was to disconcert, to awaken instincts that would make you feel uncomfortable with yourself—unless you are a psychopath, the feeling of wanting to break glass or kick dogs is as undesirable as wanting to hug your pillow or smile at strangers in the street. This new album gives you the latter feeling, and I can assure you that I, for one, feel disgusting inside. I think that “Celestica” is a hit because it is formally a hit—I like that Alice plays at being a melodious trance diva à la Kirsty Hawkshaw– and because it affects you first and convinces you later; I like it even better that Alice hides that she is also a rude bitch who would love to break your jaw with her fists. I absolutely go wild with pleasure over “Baptism,” which is like Tiësto in a videogame to kill ethnic minorities that obligates you to raise your arms and pretend that you are breaking the branches of trees, or that you are hitting clouds as if they were a sandbag. “Year Of Silence” raises my libido, starting with a brutality similar to The Horrorist, evolving towards cheesy territory and sampling Sigur Rós “Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur” to make it into something like stadium-techno. I really dig the contrast between the sound assault of “Fainting Spells” (bringing to mind immediate memories of when Atari Teenage Riot left you deaf two seconds in to a concert), the sweetened R&B of “Empathy,” and the elfin voice and bells of “Vietnam,” which also eventually becomes a progressive hymn. I see a valuable production, a sound content that very clearly says “fuck it,” many noteworthy songs and gestures of acceptance on one hand and horror on the other. Their fans know why. Other people have a problem, because the more this album irritates you, the more it will have achieved its goal. You wanted it to be bad, but it isn’t. It sucks to be you.
Richard Ellmann* Buy and listen here.