“I’m one step away from being a vigilante to protect people and bring justice to the people I love. I’ve thought about it”
– Alice Glass
Crystal Castles are dying. Along with their previous albums, (III) is continually situated at the precipice of disintegration and disillusion, a death that is deterred. Whether it is the fuzzed-out sawtooth bass lines or the layers of reverb entombing Alice Glass’ vocals, Crystal Castles’ albums are in a state of ruins. While retaining some semblance of a structural foundation, in Crystal Castles’ case an “electronic” and “pop” foundation, the duo attempts to push its structural limitations to the exact point where the outside touches its body, porousness to parasites and contamination. As Ethan Kath stated, “We prefer our equipment to come infested with insects and ghosts.” While none of this is radically new for them, what separates (III) from their previous releases could be found in Glass’ recent statement concerning her dystopic anxieties and her desire to be a “vigilante to protect people.” “I’ll protect you from/ All the things I’ve seen/ And I’ll clean your wounds/ Rinse them with saline” (“Kerosene”). As nihilistic as Crystal Castles could be and as directionless Glass asserts their music to be (we both have no goals”), (III) is their most cohesive album that clearly addresses various issues, whether religious (“Wrath of God”), hegemonic (“Plague”), or gender (“Pale Flesh,” “Transgender”). While the indecipherability and voicelessness of Glass’ vocal delivery was previously limited to a discourse of obscurity, animality, and nothing else, on (III) the obscurity of her vocal presentation is a strategic alignment with the voiceless.
(III)’s cover features Samuel Aranda’s award-winning photograph of Fatima al-Qaws caressing her son Zayed after being exposed to tear gas. The two are silenced in monochromatic shells, Fatima in black and Zayed in white. In this expressionless anonymity of shades, the two speak a joint speech of suffering directed towards the viewer. Reminiscent of Crystal Castles’ debut album’s cover, we, the viewers/listeners, are denied their faces. Fatima’s face is covered, and Zayed’s face is turned away. It is only through a slight opening of Fatima’s burqa could we see her. “You can’t disguise sad eyes” (“Sad Eyes”). The voices of both Fatima and Zayed are buried, reduced to their bodies — made into corpses. “Adolescent fiancé/ I’m just flesh to give away” (“Pale Flesh”). Similarly, Glass’ voice is a corpse, speaking through the ghosts and insects that inhabit it, the same ones of which Kath spoke. These bodies are corpses but still speak. In this degradation of body and voice, Glass attempts to speak of oppressed subjects. This newfound direction of Crystal Castles, at least concerning their lyrical content, is simultaneously a non-direction. (III) makes the wise choice not to illustrate oppression by speaking for oppressive subjects with a legitimate voice. Instead, Glass retains her indecipherable vocals, which are oppressed by layers of reverb and delay, in order to speak in view of oppressed subjects. This results in (III) being Crystal Castles’ least abrasive album (“Child I Will Hurt You” sounds like Strawberry Switchblade) but also their most poignant and cohesive one.
Glass can’t speak for those oppressed, but she must put herself in their position, in a state of being speechless. Buried underground, Glass and her oppressed people must be, yet can’t be, exhumed. “Will you ever preserve, will you ever exhume” (“Transgender”)? These corpses of Glass, Fatima al-Qaws, and Zayed are not pure. They are contaminated and obscured. “You will never be pure again.” The instrumentation encases Glass’ voice, putting the vocals on an equal plane with the instrumentation. The voice becomes an instrument, bleeding into the environment, losing character but opening up its body to bacteria and misfortune. No longer a subject, the voice becomes a rhythmic pulse. The voice is irreducible to a specific message but connects itself to various seismic lines and planes of the high and low. The body of music is homogeneous yet contains alien specters. (III) illustrates the difficulty both to speak for oppressed subjects and to speak in general. Even though (III) is Crystal Castles’ most unified album, the text of Glass’ voice is still faceless and without words — empty. In this ahistoric space of broken and muted speech, Crystal Castles attempt to find a way to express suffering and oppression. “Without past I can’t disappoint/ My ancestry” (“Affection”).