Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles

Focused, sophisticated and accessible, Crystal Castles is in nearly every way a more accomplished album than its predecessor.

Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles

Label: Universal Motown
US Release Date: 2010-06-08
UK Release Date: 2010-06-07

As far as debut albums go, 2008's Crystal Castles was one of this decade's most striking. Sounding quite unlike anything that came before, its 16 tracks cobbled together a variety of electronic sounds using rock dynamics, producing an electro-punk record that was as compelling as it was combustible. Eight-bit chirps, blasts of static and distorted synths collided violently with harsh, overdriven beats and Death From Above 1979 samples, while Alice Glass' effects-laden shrieks kept the listener transfixed. It was a volatile record and one sensed that it would not be easily duplicated, even by its own architects.

Thankfully, though, they haven't tried. Despite bearing the same title as its predecessor, 2010's Crystal Castles is an entirely different animal. Far from the rough-hewn, spontaneous constructions of the band's debut, these songs are rendered with depth, clarity and above all, a sense of purpose. By and large, these 14 tracks sound like pop songs, replete with dance beats, discernable choruses and memorable hooks. And yet, despite these concessions, Crystal Castles manages to retain the same spirit of mischief and recklessness that made the band's debut so exhilarating.

"Fainting Spells" eases the listener in, as it were, with nearly three minutes of static and chopped up screams before leading into "Celestica", wherein we first encounter Glass' unadorned voice, set atop a club-ready beat and shimmering synths. It's a disarming moment: stripped of the vocal effects for which she is known, Glass sounds approachable -- innocent, even. "When it's cold outside / Hold me / Don't hold me," she sings, making the duo's intentions clear: to hold the listener at arm's length, even as the songs beckon.

And do they ever beckon. "Suffocation" offers up a slinky electro-pop romp, with a vocal from Glass that's simultaneously crystal clear and wholly unintelligible. "Violent Dreams" marries cliché house sounds with an oppressive cathedral organ line, resulting in a goth-pop tune that's equal parts danceable and menacing. "Vietnam", the album's centerpiece, is a densely layered dance floor leveler, driven by layers of luminous synths and a massive, four-on-the-floor beat. And "Year of Silence" finds the band embracing its irreverence once again, sampling the vocal from Sigur Rós' "Inni mér syngur vitleysingur" in order to cast Jónsi's pleas in a surprisingly sinister light.

Crystal Castles might be a more welcoming album than its predecessor but it's hardly afraid to confront. "Doe Deer", for example, grafts heavily distorted, piercing screams on to a fragmented, fuzzed-out synth line. "Birds" sabotages what would otherwise read like a boilerplate post-punk number by pushing a recurring, squelchy pop to the front of the mix. And "I Am Made of Chalk" bubbles over with disconcerting, vaguely human noises that subvert the song's wistful tone.

There's a reason why so many acts stumble on their sophomore albums: saddled by expectations, young bands tend to either play it safe or succumb to delusions of grandeur. On Crystal Castles, Glass and Ethan Kath manage to sidestep both of these traps by splitting the difference between their origins and ambitions. They've made a bigger, denser, more accessible record but in so doing, have not lost sight of their strengths -- rather, those strengths now shine through even more clearly. If Crystal Castles offers any indication, electro's enfants terribles might just be a lot more wise than they let on.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.