Album Review: Crystal Antlers
Facts about this album:
* Crystal Antlers, from Long Beach, California, are Kevin Stuart (drums) Damian Edwards (percussion) Andrew King (guitar) Jonny Bell (bass) Victor Rodriguez (organ) and Errol Davis (guitar).
* ‘Tentacles’ is their debut album.
Sometimes the subversive spirit permeates the most unlikely of places. Long Beach, California, is one such locality. For a town that’s more famous for the perma-tanned celebrities that grace its sandy beaches than its righteous egalitarians on soapboxes, it’s refreshing that a group like Crystal Antlers can exist within its confines.
In a world where the commodification of music has left many a band bereft of such simple rights as the basic ownership of their creative output, it’s heartening that these young bucks (Oh deer – Zoology Ed) have remained true to their diehard DIY punk rock aesthetic. They took it upon themselves to handle the odds and sods of their band admin so wholeheartedly that they nearly didn’t sign to über-indie Touch And Go – a label known for its liberal approach to the murkier side of the ‘business’ – because they couldn’t bear the thought of handing over the distribution duties of their records to anyone else outside of their herd.
Mirroring their obstinate stance against major label manpower, their music has an aggressive defiance that fuses elements of hardcore punk with spasmodic psychedelic harpsichords and funk-fused bongos (yes, that’s right, bongos).
It’s easy to see why Isaiah Randolph ‘Ikey’ Owens (best known for his work with De Facto and The Mars Volta) agreed to work with them on 2008’s self-released ‘EP’. There’s a distinctively bombastic urgency to instrumental opener ‘Painless Sleep’ and a sonic ferocity to ‘Time Erased’. Both flirt outrageously with improv jazz and experimental prog madness, thus providing an obvious link between Owens’ other work and Crystal Antlers’ sound.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a sensitive side to Crystal Antlers’ almost-alpha male punk rock aural assault. As befitting a band named after a mineral and an animal (well, part of), it seems only logical that ‘Tentacles’ is obsessed with the natural world, as song titles such as ‘Until The Sun Dies (Part One)’, ‘Foot Of The Mountain’ and ‘Swollen Sky’ would suggest.
Frontman Jonny Bell does have the tendency to occasionally sound like an overgrown baby throwing his toys out of the pram, as witnessed by the screeches and indecipherable wails on ‘Andrew’. However, there’s a raw intensity to his throat-scratching drawl on ‘Dust’ that leaves you feeling despondently captivated.
Crystal Antlers may be treading the same ethical path that bands such as Fugazi did, but it’s their ability to amalgamate and transcend genres with apocalyptic effect that makes them truly revolutionary.