CRYSTAL CASTLES “Crystal Castles” (Polydor)
It’s so easy to look at albums like this with a pontificating glare. Synth-pop second time around can seem like a lost cause. But why should that be? After all, I have no problem with bands in 2010 sounding like bands from the 70s. Is it because that synth-pop is so associated with the 80s that it sounds out of context in 2010?
Perhaps then, it’s appropriate that the cover of this Ontario duo’s second eponymous album is (what looks like) a picture of a zombie girl rising from her grave. Really puts you in the right frame of mind for the horrors contained within. Don’t get me wrong, I mean that in the best possible way. The music on “Crystal Castles” is not quite the sweet, popular synth pop that the early 80s pioneers like Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Heaven 17 and Human League proposed but more industrial and confrontational like “underground” electronic heroes like Throbbing Gristle and Caberet Voltaire.
Despite hailing from Canada, the duo’s exercises on discordant electro-clash sounds like it originated somewhere in icy Scandinavia. Whilst Ethan Kath programmes mildly pleasing/disturbing concoctions, vocalist Alice Glass sings like she’s from another planet or dimension – like a banshee or a wraith trapped on some otherworldly plane – and in a indecipherable language, recalling both Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins) and Jonsi (Sigur Ros) in execution.
With intriguing titles (Fainting Spells, Suffocation, Violent Dreams, Pap Smear) to match the sound collages that pass for songs, Crystal Castles is an “indie” rock fans’ wet dream and the fact that its released by a Universal Music company is doing my head in somewhat. I guess all that’s left to say is that this is highly recommended, bloody essential head music. Really.