Artist: Crystal Castles
It’s unusual to make a sincere comparison between dream pop and death metal. Yet one came to mind quite easily while listening to Crystal Castles’s latest album III, and it is this; sometimes vocals are defined less by what they explicitly state than how they sound when they say it.
Alice Glass, vocalist of Crystal Castles, states that “Oppression is a theme, in general…” (of the album). That oppression is felt more through the rhythm and sound of the music here than in a constant awareness of what is being sung. In the haze of synthetic fuzz and snarl, words are either whispered (“Kerosene”, “Transgender”), or distorted to such pitch-manipulated spits of sound (“Insulin”) that the vocal recordings transform, becoming an instrument to be used with all the dexterity and bluntness of a drumstick. The result is surprisingly enchanting, and arguably just as effective in relating the inner drama of oppression as a carefully elucidated poem.
“Pale Flesh” is one of the more effective communicators of that oppression. After a squealing, shrill beat grinds into its bass groove the vocals then mirror the instrumentation’s theme; becoming frantic cries of panic that smooth and flatten out. This forced mellowing of anxiety creates a tension within the music which is ultimately quite successful.
Some of the songs on the album have a decidedly 90s sensibility about them. “Plague”’s echoing vocals are set among synthetics that rise to a crescendo of electronic house triumph before mellowing into somewhat ominous industrial sounds, while playful, high-pitched vocals are set to a quick, perky rhythm in “Violent Youth.” In both of these tracks the synthesizer is familiar, and the songs feel as if they were hidden on some freshly unearthed 90s electronica B side. But this should hardly be a deterrent; there is a vivacity and freshness to the music here that is definitely attractive.
The most innovative, and sadly the briefest in running time on the album, is the track “Insulin”. After a high-pitched intro reminiscent of the entry into a horror film, the bass explodes into pulsing heavy distortion as gratifying as a welcome plot twist. Vocals blur into a winsome crackle of low and high notes that can only be experienced as emotional entreaties rather than explicit ones. As sense of the song is jettisoned, there is ascension into a state of pure rhythm.
In III the rhythms, synthesizers, and distortions are meant to be savored as undiluted injections into the spinal cord, enjoyed as a feeling as much as a message. There is little room for disappointment here among those seeking a new dark groove to ride on.