Crystal Stilts Alight of Night

[Slumberland; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: mumble-pop, surfedelic new wave
Others: Joy Division, Velvet Underground, Spacemen 3, Vivian Girls and other records by bands

Buzz band d’jour Crystal Stilts have more in common with their fellow Brooklyn-based Vivian Girls than just their ex-drummer. Besides representing the 718 area code, both bands cut their teeth on limited vinyl releases put out by local label Woodsist (Jeremy Earl just gets all the buzz bands, doesn’t he?), and both, though adhering to their own unique visions, have embarked upon the common mission of stuffing haunting reverb and echo back into the context of pop songs.

Hearkening back to a time when it was still punk to be goth, Alight of Night's sound invokes regions as far-reaching as Manchester and Dunedin, all while maintaining a drunken, woozy-headed pop sensibility that seems singular to New York bands. Their sound borrows as much from early Rough Trade singles, from the likes of Subway Sect and Young Marble Giants, as they do from the moody late-’60s flower punk of The Deep’s Psychedelic Moods or The Seeds’ A Web of Sound. Take opening track "The Dazzled": the track begins with a ghostly reverberating tone from a Farfisa organ (yes, the same one in ? And The Mysterians' 96 Tears) before the coiffed crooning of Brad Hargett comes in sounding something like Morrissey singing into a barren, echoing alley.

While Hargett’s dreamy mumblings are so aloof you’ll question his very presence, the rhythm section is a little more existent. On tracks likes "Departure" and "The SinKing," guitarist JB Townsend effortlessly knocks out persistent phrases that amble along with the haunted candor of Fall off-shoots Blue Orchids, while the velveteen riffs of "Shattered Shine" and "The City in the Sea" (which could pass for either a lost Spacemen 3 or Velvet Underground track) flow from his guitar like molasses. Meanwhile, the floating modalities woven by Townsend, Hargett, and bassist Andy Adler are nailed to the floor by the perpetual Moe Tucker-inspired downbeat stomp of former V. Girl Frankie Rose’s “stand-up” drumming.

Subtle flourishes accompany and accentuate almost every song, whether it be the almost-country steel twang guitar that arcs gently towards the heavens on "Prismatic Room" or the jubilantly nostalgic organ line from "Crystal Stilts." Far from guilding the lily, this “less is more” accessorizing adds character to each song and works to distinguish tracks that may have otherwise bled together. But the Stilts’ real strength doesn't necessarily lie in breaking new songwriting ground, but rather in crafting an intriguing sound based on their influences. This, of course, can be a drag, but when said influences are as carefully picked, pristinely melded, and precisely replicated as they are in the case of Crystal Stilts, it can be a real blast.

Most Read