Crystal Castles’ self-titled album is more of an exercise in patience than anything.
I didn’t really expect to be listening to chiptune-infused music outside of YouTube, but here we are.
Crystal Castles is a band composed of producer Ethan Kath and singer Edith Frances–although the album I’ll be reviewing features original singer Alice Glass–that has the look and aesthetic of, say, an underground punk band; however, the actual sound they stand behind is a heavy contrast to that–although the aesthetic is still there. There’s no emphasis on guitar crunches, and focus is instead drawn to bleeps, bloops, and 8-bit synth lines and melodies. It’s essentially a few pegs edgier than a soundtrack for an obscure Nintendo game, to oversimplify things.
My summary of the band’s sound seems simple enough, but there’s ample experimentation on top of that that makes their self-titled debut album…interesting. This is an album with a direction that can only be summarized as “fluid” and “hit-or-miss”. Kath’s production paves paths to laidback instrumentals and uncomfortably in-your-face songs. If you couldn’t tell from my descriptions, I take far more of a liking to the instrumentals; they don’t feel like they have to impress me as much. Songs like “Magic Spells” and “Knights” are relaxing and deserve to be put on any person’s “summer sunsets” playlist like orphans deserving a home away from an orphanage that’s not treating them too well.
While the instrumentals make up a good portion of the album, those don’t really negate the worse side of the album, which is dominated by songs of quicker tempos where Alice Glass’ clearly brickwalled voice struggles to maintain supremacy like a person trying to jump over the shoulder of someone clearly taller than them. This can be seen on the horrifically mastered “Alice Practice”, which follows the fun and accessible opener “Untrust Us” (one of my favorite tracks on the album) to give listeners a fuller picture of what they’re going to get with this album. (It was the band’s first hit song for some reason.) And don’t even get me started on the truly abysmal “Xxzxcuzx Me”, which is as much a travesty to hear as it is to read.
After the album’s numerous ups and downs, it has a shocking moment of clarity with the song “Tell Me What to Swallow”. It allows the established sounds we’ve been accustomed to take a backseat while acoustic guitars and Glass’ reverb- and delay-drenched vocals paint a strikingly beautiful picture that brings the album to a plaintive, pensive close. It’s a complete sonic departure, but its starkness combined with its vulnerability in light of the tracks preceding it makes for an astonishingly fitting finale.
Ultimately, Crystal Castles’ self-titled album is more of an exercise in patience than anything. It sees how much glitched-out crap you’re willing to sit through to experience the nuggets of greatness that lie nested within the album. It’s truly a shame that these moments of greatness are so few and fairly far between (mainly since it’s organized like the band handed the tracklist to someone with ADD and asked them to make the final touches), but it’s not a complete waste of time nor is it one of the finest albums I’ve heard in the past few years.
Consensus: While their electropop-edged chiptune sound boasts originality, Crystal Castles’ self-titled debut is a dizzyingly kaleidoscopic ride where quality is not guaranteed, nor is it consistent.
Favorite tracks: “Untrust Us”, “Vanished”, “Knights”, “Magic Spells”, “Tell Me What to Swallow”
Least favorite track: “Xxzxcuzx Me”
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