Friday, November 5, 2010

Crystal Castles says we are not in love. I beg to differ.

Genre: Electronic
Running Time: 52:23

If someone were to record the soundtrack to your dreams, what would it sound like? Toronto-based electronic music duo Crystal Castles measure the rhythm of your subconscious with their second album, Crystal Castles (II).

To describe the album in a word, it's very dreamlike. At times, it has a distinctive rave sound, sometimes it's more laid back, and sometimes it's gruesome.

One of the biggest reason why this album works so well is because of the job done by Ethan Kath, the group's main music producer. On the first album, many of the tracks felt like a giant clusterfuck of a sound kaleidoscope. Here, it sounds like Kath had a much better idea of what he wanted to accomplish.

The song structures are very clear: during the first couple of minutes you'll hear the intro beat, distinct and clear, which leads in to the main beat of the song where everything just goes nuts. The lead-in beat continues to play underneath the main beat, and they play off each other so well.

As for the quality of the actual beats, well, they speak for themselves. Check out "Baptism" or "Intimate" and tell me you're not floored.

Of course, the other half of the Crystal Castles puzzle is vocalist Alice Glass. On the group's first album, her vocals tended to get lost in the hodgepodge.

On Crystal Castles (II), her voice acts as another layer to compliment the music laid down by Kath. In general, her vocals can go from being very cold and dissonant to touching and full of emotion.

Witness the emotional display she pulls off on "Celestica," which may be her biggest moment in the spotlight yet. Her most touching moment comes on the impeccable "We Are Not In Love," which tells the tale of lovers destined to remain apart. (As an aside, the group recently released this song as a single, with Robert Smith of The Cure on lead vocals. This version arguably bests the album version.)

Then of course, there is the less accessible Glass. She has a much harsher vocal style that she often combines with her melodic moments.

You have the muted screams on Doe Deer, the distant shrieks in the beginning of "Empathy" which show off a much harsher side of Glass. But the stunning thing is that these moments are still beautiful, in their own grotesque way. It takes serious talent to pull that off.

Song by song there are some real highlights to point out. "Baptism" captures the best of their rave sound. "Year of Silence" features a Sigur Ros sample, but "Empathy" may be the album's high point. The opening beat sounds something like the sound you make when you blow through an empty Pringles bottle. Glass's reverb coated vocals in the chorus may be one of the best things the group has done so far.

On their first album, Crystal Castles made a considerable effort to display a video game/arcade machine influence. That trend here has thankfully been eliminated for the most part, but "Pap Smear" dips into those influences a bit. The closer, "I Am Made of Chalk," gives the listener the sensation of being underwater with its bubble/oxygen tank effects.

With Crystal Castles (II), the group has made sonic leaps forward in terms of composition and delivery, and stands as perhaps the most riveting statement of the year in electronica.

Score: 91/100

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