What’s the point in giving albums titles? Well, it does help avoid confusion.
But Crystal Castles seem to revel in confusion. Their 2008 debut Crystal Castles was variable to say the least, but included the brilliant Magic Spells, Courtship Dating, and Reckless. Then the 2010 follow-up Crystal Castles, occasionally called Crystal Castles (II) delivered the incredible Celestica, Intimate, and then the single Not in Love featuring Robert Smith off of The Cure.
Their third album, 2012’s Crystal Castles – which to avoid confusion we’ll refer to as Crystal Castles (III) here, is rather more inventive than its title might suggest. There’s something almost anthemic about the introduction to the first track Plague, as dark and dirty electronic sounds build for the first minute or so. In true Crystal Castles style you don’t entirely realise when the song has actually started, but after about a minute you realise the vocals are being screamed at you, and the backing has completely exploded.
This is a common trend with Crystal Castles. Second track Kerosene is perhaps less strong, but other early pieces Wrath of God and excellent recent single Affection absolutely explode with electronic energy. Apart from the odd word here and there, discerning the vocals is pretty much always impossible, so you’re left trying to decipher the general mood of the track, and this does take you to some interesting places.
But enjoying this kind of music solely on the basis of its noises is inevitably going to leave some tracks sounding a little off the mark, and the awful mess of Pale Flesh is a good example of this, as is the horrendous discordant noise of Insulin.
Between the misses, though, there are still some very strong tracks. Sad Eyes has a great pumping synth line, although it might benefit from a more intelligible vocal. Transgender is another powerful track, with enormous electronics.
The tail end of (III) falls a little flat, with Violent Youth, Telepath and Mercenary all being pleasant listens but largely unexciting, with throbbing electronic sounds and waily vocal samples coming together in the right direction but culminating in relatively uninteresting tracks. The closing piece Child I Will Hurt You is – despite the disturbing title – better, definitely good enough to consider one of the album’s highlights, but still lacks the sheer power of some of the early tracks.
It’s difficult to judge how Crystal Castles stacks up against its predecessors Crystal Castles and Crystal Castles – I suspect it’s maybe not quite as good as either, but like both, it does have its special moments, and Crystal Castles (I’m talking about the band this time) do deserve a large helping of respect for continuing to experiment with silly noises. But sometimes the silly noises come at the expense of actual songs, and like any modern music that’s all boom boom and doesn’t have a melody that you can whistle, it can be a little impenetrable at times.