Album Review: Crystal Castles – ‘Crystal Castles’ (Fiction)

Radio playlisted, exploring their spiritual side – have the digipunk pinups gone soft? No fear...

Polarising is what copyright infringers, fan-bottlers and surly bastards [a]Crystal Castles[/a] do best. So it was only a matter of time before they polarised themselves. Recorded in a church in Iceland, a garage in Detroit and a log cabin in Ontario, it seems disparate environments have seeped into the bipolar sounds of their second album. The moments of calm beauty that studded their debut are more frequent, while the digipunk shriekfests are harder, colder and scarier.

Whereas tracks like ‘Magic Spells’ felt like brief pauses for breath between fits of rage, here CC attain a more contemplative space, leading us to suspect the leather-clad enfants terrible may have souls that crave saving. ‘Baptism’ remembers the essential link between hands-in-the-air rave and hands-together church music, Messiah Chorus-layered synths raising praise to the heavens while evil Alice dances a squealing sacrilege across the altar. Or take single ‘Celestica’, whose naked, unashamed gym-trance rush (Radio 1 playlisted, ye gods) borrows a trick from Delerium’s ‘Silence’, Alice singing (yes, really) softly, “Do you pray with your eyes closed… When it’s cold outside, hold me tight, hold me”.

Not that [a]Crystal Castles[/a] have found chillout, or anything. For every moment of beatification, there’s another where they throw the listener into the pit. ‘Doe Deer’ is distilled CC; that serrated ground-Glass shriek, the itchy, nervy beats, the nagging riff. It makes you want to fight, fuck or flee, to jump on the nearest table and start ape-grimacing and throwing things, possibly your own faeces. ‘Fainting Spells’ opens the album with a scratchy nest of hisses and gasps, fear inducing, panic attack-y, like a last fuzzily recorded plea for help.

What’s to become of CC’s restless souls, forever torn between frenzy and transcendence? Standout ‘Empathy’ finds a balance, an edgily rippling electro pulse and Knife-ish distorted vocals soothed by amniotic synths and Alice’s cooed promises of “synergy” and “symmetry”. It’s closer ‘I Am Made Of Chalk’, though, that really knits the two sides of their being. Alice sounds like a dolphin trapped in a car-crusher below Orbital-like heavenly washes of fuzzy brightness; a muddy and malformed creature in supplication to some celestial power.

It’s a late resolution; like their debut, ‘Crystal Castles’ feels long; not too long for comfort but too long for coherence. An album that erred definitely to one side or the other (or that left off pleasant but inessential tracks such as ‘Not In Love’) would be a clearer statement. But that’s [a]Crystal Castles[/a]; awkward, intractable, occasionally brilliant, always human.

Emily Mackay

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Click here to get your copy of Crystal Castles’ ‘Crystal Castles’ from the Rough Trade shop