Years Active: 2004-current
Genre: Electronic, Experimental, Dance Punk
I never really know how to explain electronic music. It’s not that I don’t like it, I do. I just don’t know how to express how much I like it and why I do. Maybe I’m a bit unknowledgeable on the genre–I can admit to that. But if you ask me, above all genres there’s a level of craftsmanship that’s exclusive to electronic. The simplest tweak here, or turn there can make the difference between making your song kick -, or completely suck. That being said, there’s only so many electronic bands I can talk about without rehashing why I like them–in essence, you read me talking about one electronic band, you’ve pretty much read them all. Except Crystal Castles. I know exactly why I love them.
Ethan Kahn (producer) began working on music for Crystal Castles in 2003. He met Alice Glass when she was 15, and performing for the punk group Fetus Fatale. As the myth goes, Alice who had recently changed her name and ran away from home (to hang out with drug addicts nonetheless) did some practice songs for Kahn, some of which were secretly recorded and so damn raw that they had to be included on their debut album [see: Alice Practice.] Kahn and Glass began working together and produced quite a few limited edition singles in 2006/2007, and eventually released their self-titled debut record in 2008.
The Castles first record is obsolete. I won’t waste your time on it much because even though it’s great music [and it is] it’s one of those albums that to this day I can’t get back into, save for a few songs. This could be because the second album is just leaps and bounds better, but it could also be because I may have overrated that first album when it first came out. Briefly, the album outlines the Castles style to a tee which is a fun and interesting design for a band. It’s an electronic album with a huge dance-punk influence. There’s an impressive level of detail embodied on this record [minor tweaks here and there, a certain thematic sound that Kahn really has a knack for catching] and a HUGE video game influence [see: Reckless, Xxzxcuzx Me] that was almost their signature trademark for sometime. Thumping beats, Alice’s fantastic vocals [which can be anywhere from soft, to screaming]…this is really a record that seemed specifically produced for the people who roll, or take tabs and just dance until their bodies collapse 3 days later [if only it were that long ]
But enough of the first album. It’s really, really good music, but that album and their classic material is like night and day. Well, not exactly. Before I say anything, I need to talk about lead singer Alice Glass and just how much I adore her. There are two forms of vocal delivery that I feel are incredibly effective and undeniably underutilized in modern music: spoken word, and screaming. Quick note: Alice never uses spoken word. She screams, and she sings…and she’s damn good at both. A lot of people are turned off by this, but if older bands have taught me anything [see: Cap’n Jazz] it’s that screaming, and stream of conscious lyrics have a certain appeal to me…for whatever reason. Something else that appeals to me? Distortion and music that gets really ****ing loud! The Crystal Castles do all of this….really, really well on their second album.
It’s obvious from the start of their second self titled record, that the Castles are out for ****ing blood. The songs are loud, Alice is loud, the distortion is insane, and by track 5 you probably haven’t picked up a dozen words she’s saying [save for first single, “Celestica.”] By the end of the first four songs on this record, either Alice has completely grabbed you by the throat or you’ve already shut this record off. For me, she had me by the balls and I had fallen in love.
The sound on this record is pretty standard for an electronic album, but it still stays true to the Castles basic sound. There’s still a lot of video game influence here. There’s a bit of distortion, which is great because I’m often infatuated with white noise when used right. There’s a nice Sigur Ros sample on here, that’s so flipped and chopped that it’s near indistinguishable. There’s a bit more synthesizer use, and less focus on nostalgic video game beats–something that undoubtedly will turn off many fans of the first album, but one that has easily evolved and ameliorated the Castles sound. In hindsight, Kahn really outdoes himself on this record. He’s essentially taken many standard practices of electronic music and made it fit for the Castles unique style–making this both standard for an electronic album, yet still, clearly a Crystal Castles album.
But it’s not Kahn who makes this album so much as its Glass. HOLY CRAP the girl is good. Damn good. Whether she’s out for blood [Doe Deer] or being as angelic and intimate as she’s ever been [Suffocation] Glass is proving she may be the most engaging vocalist I’ve heard since Jeff Magnum in 1998’s “An Aeroplane Over The Sea.” Maybe I’m over exaggerating (probably), but Glass just has a way of keeping all eyes on her even when she’s not meant to be the focal point [and this isn’t a bad thing!] Even on the most musically engaging track [Empathy], Alice still overpowers Kahn. Kahn’s good, damn even great…and on this record he’s almost supposed to overpower Glass [the emphasis on synthesizers over the chilled stoner beats of the first record really showcase this] and still Alice sounds flawless.
As far as records to get into…obviously Crystal Castles should be picked up….Crystal Castles should also be looked into also Seriously though, pick up the first album first…even though its obsolete it’s very easy to get into, and the nostalgia factor will certainly win some of you guys over. The second album is a bit more of a challenge, but it’s well-worth the listen.
Albums: Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles ii (2010)
Crimewave [Crystal Castles i (2008)]
Xxzxcuzx Me! [Crystal Castles i (2008)]
Untrust Us [Crystal Castles i (2008)]
Air War [Crystal Castles i (2008)]
Empathy [Crystal Castles ii (2010)]
DOE DEER [Crystal Castles ii (2010)]
Celestica [Crystal Castles ii (2010)]
NOT IN LOVE (Remix) feat. Robert Smith [Crystal Castles ii (2010)]
Baptism [Crystal Castles ii (2010)]
Year Of Silence [Crystal Castles ii (2010)]