It’s a rare band that doesn’t mellow a little with age, lose some of the rough edges and raw spirit of their earliest singles and develop new nuances and subtleties. ‘Courtship Dating’ is a calmer, more sensual record than their debut ‘Alice Practice’ – not so surprising, really, given that record was a fireball of bust-mic shrieks and 8-bit convulsions that sounded like Mario being catapulted through a plate-glass window. But if this is more restrained than what’s come before, it’s only to get closer to you, to get under your skin.
Literally under your skin, that is. Reportedly about performing taxidermy with the corpses of dead ex-lovers, ‘Courtship Dating’ is warmly horrible, like feeling a pleasant tingle and looking down to find there are maggots swarming up your arm. Fuller-fleshed than ‘Crimewave’, there’s no doubt that Ethan Fawn is picking up new tricks here. The starting point is synth-pop, but drained of blood and filled up with muted screams, jerking bass and sparking circuit boards.
There’s euphoria here too. Hear those synths rush in and you’re reminded of that bit in The Streets’ ‘Weak Become Heroes’ when Mike comes up on an E, but here it’s like it’s been downloaded to an old-school Game Boy, chemical highs reduced to blocks and pixels. Alice’s sweet sing-song, meanwhile, is pulled way, way back in the mix so it sounds like she’s singing from the bottom of a bath of embalming fluid, but if you reached in to try to pull her out, she’d drag you in with her.
Crystal Castles make dance music for sociopaths. They’re ’80s like Patrick Bateman and the Blade Runner replicants. They’re the cocktail made with strychnine and broken glass that you drink anyway, and ‘Courtship Dating’ is the best piece of humanity-loathing cyborg pop since The Knife’s ‘Silent Shout’.