Crystal Antlers Tentacles

[Touch and Go; 2009]

Styles:  rock
Others: late-Mars Volta

With the scorching intensity of their 2007 debut EP, Crystal Antlers proved themselves worthy of attention. The album’s fires were ignited by a dangerous guitar-led fury that healthily disrupted the soft “1, 2, 3, 4” mood that has recently been hovering above the indie world like a dead, boring cloud. In less than 25 minutes, the band delivered a necessary blast of energy, shaking listeners out of their soft pop-induced slumber while simultaneously exciting a darker, heavier pop sensibility with instantly memorable hooks (see “A Thousand Eyes”). But if the listener hopes that Tentacles, the band’s debut full-length, will push this fury to the next level, they will only be disappointed.

Perhaps the band’s sound, which on Tentacles is more like leftover ’90s post-grunge-rock than the ’70s-inspired dark-psych-rock on EP, is not suitable for the full-length format. After 40 minutes of almost no deviation from the slightly-edgy-rock-ballad formula, one feels an unpleasant burn, like after sitting through a Math 101 lecture. Bell’s vocals are largely responsible for the exhaustion, and by “Time Erased,” the grating, emo-whine is already slightly nauseating. The emotional lyrical content, though, seems to match up well with the emo-whine, as most of the songs might easily become anthems for a brokenhearted, drunken high school sophomore who expresses sadness through fleeting moments of meaningless rage.

From the album’s title, one anticipates a dispersed yet unified, life-feeling pulsing through the tracks, but the opposite is the case. These tracks are lifeless, and the multitude of sounds turns to mud, eventually eating itself. The only sign of life comes from the organ, which makes every song equally circus-like -- in a bad way -- like a clown who has had too much caffeine. The album lacks anything memorable for the listener to latch onto. In fact, it's hard to imagine what anyone could connect to in the vocals, which are typically inaudible screeches, aside from an opportunity for ironic mockery. Instrumentally, there is nothing that sets one song apart from another, as each one completely lacks any memorable hook or melodic line to make the listener crave a second fix.

After the disappointment of Tentacles, one might find hope in re-listening to the EP. Some, though, may find that the EP has lost the bulk of its magic in retrospect. The only track that cuts through the monotony on both albums is “A Thousand Eyes.” For just one moment, we hear Bell’s voice depart from its norm. The instruments are individually articulate but unified, not attempting to destroy each other in the mix. The parts build on and strengthen one another, as the band paces itself nicely. The chorus is memorable, with a clever hook that fulfills its purpose without collapsing into pop banality. If Crystal Antlers end up going down as a band that had only one good single, that will be the one. For now, that is all they have.

1. Painless Sleep
2. Dust
3. Time Erased
4. Andrew
5. Vapor Trail
6. Tentacles
7. Until the Sun Dies (Part One)
8. Memorized
9. Glacier
10. Foot of the Mountain
11. Your Spears
12. Swollen Sky
13. Several Tongues

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