Canadian indie-electro duo Crystal Castles have been surrounded, at all times, from the moment anyone knew anything about them, by ubiquitous hype and its little brother, buzz. Way back in their even-buzzier days, the Toronto duo made a lot of noise on MySpace after posting their first demo, "Alice Practice," on the once-popular social networking site. Their futuristic 8-bit dance-y death rock put to use old-school video game sounds (which chiptune nerds had previously held captive in their underground subgenre for years) to forge a sound as scary as it was seductive — similar in effect, perhaps, to the first time an audience heard a bass guitar snarling through an overdriven distortion pedal.
Whether hype and buzz are good company to keep depends largely on who you're talking to, but either faction will likely regard Crystal Castles as one of the quintessential "hype bands" of the last decade.
Leading up to and following their self-titled debut — a collection featuring all the aforementioned amenities but a few toned-down, club-friendly ditties to boot, the two enlisted a drummer, and toured the world relentlessly. Having a hired hand onstage helped reinforce the sounds created by hooded maestro Ethan Kath, who mostly hovered and bobbed over a tweaked-out synth. But the band owes the bulk of its stage presence to the beguiling and volatile Alice Glass, who, if she happens to be standing still onstage for a moment, is either taking a breath between songs or swigging from a bottle of whiskey.
The long trek around the globe spawned by their debut also yielded their follow-up. As with their first album, they recorded their sophomore effort themselves, this time in various locations, including a church in Iceland, a cabin in Ontario and a garage behind an abandoned convenience store in Detroit. One could argue, "Why not just lay down some vocal tracks in the van?" — but there's no sense arguing with the artistic process.
A few months ago, Stereogum leaked "Doe Deer," a Crystal Castles track that was speculated to be on their then-forthcoming album. It's a ferociously noisy, evil raver rant distorted beyond recognition, and it inspired a couple hundred bloggers to pontificate as to whether this band had gone off the deep end in an adverse reaction to the chillwave craze of late. As it turns out, "Doe Deer" is an anomaly on Crystal Castles — their self-titled sophomore release (possibly an homage to Weezer, or probably just another way to make downloading it illegally more difficult). By April of this year, the album had leaked in its entirety, and for anyone who'd actually spent more than a few seconds of their day wondering whether the band was headed toward the raw, ripped-up sound of their previous work or toward a new, more melodic center, the answer was now clear: both.
Those frighteningly apocalyptic Atari teenage riots from the first record (which you had been using to give your square friends bad acid trips) are still here on a few tracks, like the aforementioned "Doe Deer." But the group has also forged an alternate, more dominant personality, smoothing those sonic freak-outs into pretty dance floor anthems like "Celestica," which dually functional for either cutting a rug or chillaxing on a bean-bag chair. No doubt due in no small part to the band's having spent 90 percent of their nights in dance clubs the past few years, Kath's grating, pounding, glitchy clumps of beats now pulsate like sonic strobe lights. Alice Glass' banshee caterwauling has in most places (not all) sweetened into a dreamy warble, often warped and digitally manipulated to sound as synthetic as the grooves underneath it.
The end result weighs heavy on the accessible side of the spectrum with club-ready jams ripe for the remixing, the band's trademark lo-fi synths given a Montel Williams makeover, creating an ambrosial collection of pure transcendental pop peppered with bombastic moments of pure mayhem. As for living up to the hype that created this monster, Pitchfork lauded this thing with a whopping 8.5, which for this circuit is generally all that needs to be said to give them the kind of buzzy momentum to make their next release the most anticipated release of whatever year that happens to be.
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