Thursday, December 6, 2012

Crystal Castles: (III) (2012)


Not hard to get the gist of this record's oppression-targeted thematic passions; they sadly don't extend to any great musical revelation, least of all when compared to the bizarre, ear-futzing delights of the first two Crystal Castles records. This is exactly what you'd expect outtakes from the duo's earlier sessions to sound like; flabby and indistinct, it tracks how rapidly an innovative artist can begin to follow trends and fall behind the times.

Alice Glass' vocals are buried in the mix this time around; she often tries to shout above the din of Ethan Kath's trance-heavy production, to little avail. It sounds like a strange complaint, but the standardizing and calming of the band's sound gives us a record that's simply too pleasant. Some of what made Crystal Castles, marks I and II, so intriguing were their annoying and abrasive elements that would gradually reveal more to the more-than-casual listener. But casual listening is all that really works for (III), which involuntarily recedes into the background and never feels so pressing or important. Even when there's a bit of good ol' yelpy electro stuff ("Pale Flesh") it's all rather polite.

So it is that the nicest thing you can say about Crystal Castles' third album is that it sounds very much like Crystal Castles -- their carved-out sound remains a signature, but the world's caught up too quickly. "Insulin" is a neat creation, but just a repeat of earlier experiments; "Transgender" has a towering, church-like expansiveness tempered by trippy skipping effects -- but survey the par-for-the-course electronic records of 2012 and you'll find dozens of songs like those. Which brings us to the point that closing peak "Child I Will Hurt You" is pretty much a Beach House song -- all the beauty of the Castles' second record with none of the caveats, punishing blips, sonic terrorism. Maybe that's the future. Do we need more airlessly pretty, vaguely political indie rock albums? Probably not, but nor do we need more desolate and not-terribly-interesting electronic records.

Crystal Castles (2010)

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