Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles seem to have appeared pretty much out of nowhere a decade ago with their eponymous debut album. There were no hit singles, despite a few attempts and a minor UK indie hit, and yet this remains their best selling album in the UK. Despite the duo’s turmoil in recent years, let’s try to give the album a fair listen and see where it takes us.

It opens with Untrust Us, a gloriously discordant piece of electro which bobs along very pleasantly until suddenly turning into a heavy rock track for about a second at the end. Alice Practice is next, the bizarre shouty chiptune piece that actually had a hand in launching Crystal Castles‘ career in 2006 when it was leaked online and released as a 7″ single.

Crimewave is next, the first of their proper singles in 2007, released as a collaboration with Health. This is probably the most conventional of the early tracks on this album, which is not to say there’s anything wrong with it, just that it’s a little more accessible than some of its neighbours.

Of course, now, the story of early Crystal Castles is marred by their 2014 breakup and the shocking allegations of abuse that vocalist Alice Glass has made against instrumentalist Ethan Kath. It’s impossible to listen to this album now without being distracted by what might have been happening at the time, but it’s also difficult to know what to make of what’s been said and how to address it here. Ultimately, I suspect Glass would want her fans to still enjoy the music, but it must be fraught with conflict for her.

Magic Spells is the mellowest track so far, an instrumental electro piece with pleasant backing. Then XXZXCUZX Me, originally released as the b-side to Crimewave, is another gloriously noisy piece of chiptune. Then comes the third single Air War, a brilliantly chirpy electro track full of obscure vocal samples and 8-bit squawks. Courtship Dating and Good Time tread forward in a gentler fashion, seemingly with a few slight steps of awkwardness.

Next is another instrumental, 1991, a pleasant, short, and simple piece, and then fourth single Vanished is next, a simple track with a driving LFO bass line that sounds like something Ladytron might have produced. Knights is a pained piece which flips schizophrenically between pleasant synth lines and noisy electro. Love and Caring continues the noisy theme, as does Through the Hosiery, but Reckless is probably my favourite track on here – its rich, deep synth lines bounce along gloriously and it’s cleverly catchy.

At times, listening to this album is like being in a vicious, dark computer game, and Black Panther is one of the finest examples of this – it’s grimy, catchy, and almost dreamlike. Then this debut album closes with Tell Me What to Swallow, a short piece full of flanged acoustic guitar and whispering. It’s a sweet closing track to a turbulent album.

Crystal Castles, sometimes called (I) celebrates its tenth anniversary this week, at a difficult time in its history, with the former bandmates with a lot of unfinished business to resolve. But whatever was going on during this period, they leave behind at least three very good albums (I haven’t yet heard the fourth) and this was where it all began.

You can find Crystal Castles at all major retailers. As always, please use the form below or feel free to contact me privately if you wish to discuss this article.


Preview – Tracey Thorn

Tracey Thorn is back, and she’s gone disco! From her new album Record, this is the brilliant new single Queen:

Chart for stowaways – 24 February 2018

These are the top albums this week:

  1. Sparks – Hippopotamus
  2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  3. David Bowie – Legacy
  4. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
  5. Bent – The Everlasting Blink
  6. Mgmt – Little Dark Age
  7. Liza Minnelli – Results
  8. David Bowie – A Reality Tour
  9. Above & Beyond – Common Ground
  10. Air – Talkie Walkie

Stowaway Heroes – William Orbit

For a while, William Orbit just seemed to be everywhere. Comfortably among the most influential producers worldwide, he was working with MadonnaAll SaintsPet Shop Boys, and many more.

His career started out with the trio Torch Song, who saw heavy underground success in the mid-1980s. In 1993, they reappeared with a final album Toward the Unknown Region, which included the brilliant Shine on Me:

He famously launched Beth Orton‘s career with this, the sublime Water from a Vine Leaf:

But this was the moment where he really became a household name – in 1995, he recorded Pieces in a Modern Style, which was briefly released and then quickly pulled due to copyright issues. Five years later, it reappeared, heralded by this brilliant Ferry Corsten remix of Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings:

So let’s give respect where it’s due, to the brilliant stowaway hero William Orbit.

Moby – Last Night

By 2008, it’s fair to say that Moby had re-entered the underground. His 2005 album Hotel had sold well and had advanced his sound rather more than 2002’s 18, but it also saw the last of his singles, so for his eighth album, he returned very much to the dance sound where he began.

He also embraced some very retro sounds – opening track and final single Ooh Yeah is a brilliantly 1980s-themed piece, which wouldn’t have sounded entirely out of place way back at the start of Moby‘s career. Then the penultimate single I Like to Move in Here is built around an early 1990s piano riff with a gloriously dirty vocal sample that includes crowd noises and other source sounds. This is Moby finally throwing off the shackles of Play by returning to his roots and showing us just how great they were. is next, more of an instrumental piece apart from the whimsical vocal samples, and then we get the unashamedly rave Everyday It’s 1989. A couple of decades late, it may not all be entirely brilliant, but at least it’s all fun.

The mellower Moby wasn’t entirely on hold, though – Live for Tomorrow may have a huge pulsating arpeggio driving it forwards, but it could have easily fitted on Play or 18. It’s a lovely track though, particularly when it really wakes up for the middle section.

Moby has always drifted between a few different styles of music, but hip hop rarely seemed to reach the forefront until Alice, released as a single just before the album came out ten years ago. The good thing with this is that it helps give this album a varied sound, but that could also come at the price of alienating the sort of people who normally buy his music, and I suspect that might have happened here. Alice isn’t too great, bluntly. Who the f*** is Alice, anyway?

In general, actually, I suspect I liked this album a lot more a decade ago than I do now – Hyenas isn’t really anything special either. I’m in Love is a lot better, with a great vocal and some brilliant percussion. Then comes the lead single Disco Lies, which isn’t entirely brilliant either, although the chorus holds it together nicely.

Broadly, though, by this stage in the album, we’re definitely back to things that I remember liking a lot more before now – The Stars isn’t great, and Degenerates is pleasant but dull, so Sweet Apocalypse and Mothers of the Night offer a slight lift, but nothing astonishing.

Things do appear to be improving towards the end though – closing track Last Night is very sweet, and its hidden bonus track (apparently entitled Lucy Vida) is a pleasant way to drift away from this album.

But some releases age better than others, and I’m sorry to report that Last Night doesn’t quite seem to have the power in 2018 than it had a decade ago. Moby definitely still had it, but maybe not quite as much of it as he used to have.

You can still find Last Night at all major retailers.

Preview – Erasure

There’s a part of me that wonders whether Erasure‘s World Beyond will actually be any good, or whether they might have pushed the idea a bit too far, as they did with Other People’s Songs and Union Street. But it’s an interesting idea, anyway. Here’s Oh What a World: