With their self-titled debut, Crystal Castles attempts to outdo an extremely fine catalogue of EPs and singles by bulking up on even more Atari 5200 bit sounds and contorting them into sometimes glitchy, sometimes groovy, electronic music. The Toronto-based duo of Alice Glass and Ethan Kath formed in 2003, but didn’t cross into vocal-friendly territory until two years later. When an accidental recording of Glass practicing surfaced as “Alice Practice” on the group’s MySpace page, company heads began to notice the duo’s eccentric, midi-obsessed sound. Since then, the Crystal Castles craze has only gained steam, and with this album, the band is prepared to make the leap from dance floor obscurity to electro-digging indie circles everywhere.
In many ways, Crystal Castles’s music is minimal and economic. Sure, you’ve got video game noises entering from all sides of a given track, but vocal samples and harmonies are often used resourcefully. “Untrust Us” opens like some long-lost soundtrack to “Castlevania,” with dark rhythms and indecipherable, pitch-shifting vocals recycled over and over again. Elsewhere, samples are dropped for Glass’s voice. On “Good Time,” she repeats the phrase “Good times keep rolling / Got to / Got to escape now,” in a plucky manner. It adds a refreshingly human touch to balance out the glitchy bleeps and warped sounds.
The best – and perhaps safest – move on the album is the inclusion of the band’s earlier single, “Crimewave.” The track was one of the best singles of the year when it came out in last August, and now with a full-length album behind it, the track stands out even more. Over a pulsating rubber-band beat, tweaked vocals stutter alongside game console flourishes reminiscent of the shrinking sound in “Mario Bros.” But out of nowhere, the vocals are replaced with staccato electronic dribbles as infectious as they are bizarre. At the onset of the song, it doesn’t really feel like a club hit, but these bouncy electro blips really elevate the track to tectonique status.
Crystal Castles gets a little bit weirder on “Air War,” which features a plodding electronic beat and vocal snippets that sound way too much like baby mumbles. Until the song’s lyrics are decoded, I’m going to assume the sample is just the word “goo” pronounced with different inflections. The song’s whimsical qualities are equally illustrated in its music video, which shows the two band members walking around town with ice cream cones for heads. Each passerby generally enjoys getting served a hefty scoop. Whether they’re trying to make some joke about “Coneheads” or “You Got Served” is left up to you.
When music magazine Loud And Quiet declared Crystal Castles “the most exciting and original band in the world right now,” it overlooked one fine detail: To be the most exciting and original band in the world does not guarantee responsive listeners from across the globe. Crystal Castles is sure to turn off even some of the music-blog-lapping indie kids out there. Nonetheless, with this full-length album, the band holds true to its spastically inventive sound. The 8-bit sounds adorning each track are produced and manicured with foresight and meaning. There is a deliberate order to the chaos. If only more video games sounded like this.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars