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.
I am a freelance author, illustrator, and animator. I’ve recently published a collection of horror stories entitled The Dog Next Door and Other Disturbances, which is available to download at Amazon.com. Currently I teach fine art and animation in the Los Angeles area after having received my BA in Film and Television at UCLA. My primary passion is revealing and refining the storytelling dynamic inherent within all media.