Crystal Castles’ 2008 album kicked off a maelstrom of activity for Ethan Kath and Alice Glass. Their wild take on electro-pop turned heads wherever they toured, with Glass’ wild-eyed performances being a particular focus for local reporters. For some, the duo was like Kraftwerk fronted by Grace Slick, only Glass wasn’t the demure leader, content to stay behind the microphone and shout at the masses. It’s rumored that at one show, she physically assaulted the band’s drummer, then started a fight with a security guard who tried to restrain the two. Still, despite a penchant for abruptly canceled shows and post-concert violence, the band seemed to relish their growing reputation. And judging from the music on their new album, they have no intention of either slowing down or changing course.
Affectionately dubbed II by music writers, Crystal Castles’ second eponymous album revisits much of the same territory explored on their self-titled debut. It presents very little in the way of new twists or turns for the duo, choosing instead to focus on the same aesthetics offered the first time around. Once again, Kath seems to have mined every flea market in Toronto to find more of the obscure synthesizers he manipulates to create the video game-like blips and bleeps that often fill the upper range of Crystal Castles’ songs. Yet this time out, Kath chose to eschew the bristles and pops of 8-track nostalgia. The duo opts instead for clean production and a much fuller sound, and it serves these selections well. The bass bumps, Glass’ voice rings, and the wider range extends the emotional reach of songs like initial single “Celestica.”
The song fuses Kath’s club effects with the distorted sounds of shoegaze, vaguely reminiscent of Galaxie 500 or Ride. And even though Glass’ lyrics sound every bit as desperate as before, the bolder production gives them room to swell and resonate. Her despair is palpable when she cries “If I’m lost, please don’t find me/ If I jump, let me sink.” And on “Not in Love,” the sense of loss conveyed in the simple phrases “We were lovers/ Now we can’t be friends/ Fascination ends/ Here we go again” begs for compassion. However, the pulsing dance beats work against the despondence, fostering a sense of blissful disorientation, almost as if Crystal Castles were offering their electro-pop as a panacea for sadness.
Obstinate, prickly, and elusive as ever, Crystal Castles seem poised for more of the reckless aggression they’ve become known for. If that seems an odd pursuit, then consider the taut focus of their new self-titled album: it’s all about seeking more of the same and dancing upon finding it.