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.
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