(Image from Wikipedia)
My first exposure to Crystal Castles came upon the release of their debut in 2008, where I was shocked to learn that modern music had co-opted 8-bit sounds taken straight from my childhood into its music. I checked out a couple of songs and filed it away as ‘neat.’ At the time, to me, it was a gimmicky attraction, as I had virtually no time for electronic music. To my ears today, however, it’s quite a different story, this being the first actual album of theirs I’ve listened to.
As the attention is often drawn to it with 8-bit music, the tone is everything here. Screaming old synthesizers wanting to be put out of their misery loop around and around the racetrack Crystal Castles have arranged here – synthesizers that would be bubbling and roiling if they weren’t so busy chirping and buzzing. Though it doesn’t glaze the entirety of the album, the hard tone of the synths used here offer almost instant satisfaction, pulling you under wave after wave of stop-start chords as they hiss at you.
Alice Glass alternately whispers and howls in-between the layers in an often-dreamy alto, letting the synths do a lot of the screaming for her and giving many of the tracks a more hypnotic lilt to put alongside the klaxons, though in “Wrath of God”, she’s on top of everything else, pulling you down into the maddening morass with her. Her vocals always seem one layer removed from your ears, having to lean in close in order to hear what she’s really saying, but getting past that layer is no easy feat.
This album’s at its finest when it spots a single patch crawling along towards you, tweaking and twirling in a small-ranged rapid pace to create a focus around which the song is based, as on “Pale Flesh” – parts where there’s a little bit of open air or a big orchestra-style burst of many parts in harmony actually don’t do as much for me. There’s no question that these synthesizers are masquerading as anything but synthesizers, but I much prefer the alien, claustrophobic feel of “Insulin” (which gives me impressions of Radiohead’s “Like Spinning Plates”, which is a very good thing to the open sweeping bursts and static riff of “Sad Eyes”. The less room to breathe, the better.
On the whole, I enjoyed the hell out of this album. The beats are engaging, though not revolutionary, and the range of synth and vocal tones and interplay create a great mixture of terror and curiosity in me that I could definitely see myself getting addicted to.