review: crystal castles’ “III”

By Cody Robinson on 11/25/2012

With their third album (III), it seems experimental Canadian duo Crystal Castles have lost their taste for experimentation. With such a flavorless title, you might expect the music to suffer from a similar lack of spice.  Sure enough, the record falls far short of jalapeno.

Artist: Crystal Castles (previous: 2010’s Crystal Castles [II])                                Release Date: November 8, 2012                   Details: The synthpunk experimentalists’ third studio album, III was recorded in Warsaw and mixed in London                                                           Dingo Dictum: C+



Thematically, the music holds true to Crystal Castles’ beginnings. Almost every track name references the band’s favorite subject matter – doom and gloom. The cover art for the record (which focuses on oppression) is a picture of Yemeni woman Fatima al-Qaws holding her son Zayed, who has been exposed to tear gas.  Their choice of this image, which was snapped by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda during a street demonstration in 2011, confirms that the band’s thematic focus on suffering remains intact.  But the music itself has mellowed.

While listening to the album, the songs tend to blur together into one, chilled-out continuum, with each new track difficult to distinguish from the last. Every song uses the same synthesizer tones, the same bass beat, and the same perpetually slurred vocals—will we ever understand what Alice Glass is saying? To be fair, there are about 5 seconds at the end of “Kerosene” when you can hear her clearly: “I’ll protect you from / all the things I’ve seen.” Beyond that, you’re going to have to find a lyrics website.

The only track that cannot be described as mellow is “Insulin,” which represents the only moment of true experimentation on the album. Producer Ethan Kath has some fun with ducking, a tool commonly used to enhance and amplify the infectious electronic beats so popular today. Ducking is usually used on the downbeat—if you clap your hands along to that thumping bass, ducking occurs on the clap. During each clap, the volume of every instrument, except for the bass, is turned down in order to make room for the bass to be louder. But Kath decides to play around with this formula and uses ducking on the offbeat—which occurs between claps. This may seem clever, but “fun” on the producing end rarely translates to increased enjoyment for the listener, and such is unfortunately the case here. Kath’s strange beat, mixed with the cacophonous onslaught of Alice’s screeching and weird white-noise synths does not lead to a pleasant listening experience. “Insulin” is the least likeable track on the album.

Except for this one song (if you can call it that) though, the record is still enjoyable and has good flow – it is probably their most unified and cohesive album thus far. While it may lack any tracks featuring the driving impetus of past hits “Baptism” and “Empathy,” overall their new sound makes for easy listening. Just don’t expect to throw a dance party to it—as you can probably imagine, a record centered on oppression doesn’t exactly make you want to get up and dance.  Δ


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