Earlier this week, as I walked to class headphones in hand, I realized that it had been a while since I’d actually listened to music on my bus ride to campus. Only recently have I switched from music to reading on the bus, in an effort to make up for what little time I seem to have for literature these days. The motive behind my aural escapades today was to formulate my feelings towards “(III),” the third release by Toronto’s disco-glitch darlings Crystal Castles.
As I pressed play on the opening track “Plague,” studying what might be the group’s most evocative album cover yet, Alice Glass’ vocals started to drift into focus (or blurriness, as they might have it).
The drop arrives a minute in, and raving synths we’ve all grown accustomed to burst out with Glass’ typical distorted howling. Only the equation didn’t feel as victorious as the last time I visited this band. The synths mirror those from my post-high-school summer jam, “Baptism,” yet the energy seems so much more slouched than it did before. Realizing that the song has squandered its highest energy level on a half-assed beat that came a minute in, I prayed that the next track proved “Plague” to be a misstep. Hopefully it was only attempting to recapture the energy of Crystal Castles “(II),” and not an indicator of the status this band has reached.
Fortunately, “Kerosene” illuminates how this record will stand in the Crystal Castles canon. The main loop is darker than anything I’ve heard Ethan Kath produce before, yet the manipulations of Glass’ voice form hooks more crisp and bouncy than the usual washed-out approach to singing. Like other good tracks on this album (“Insulin”, “Transgender”, “Violent Youth”), “Kerosene” finds a darker identity for Crystal Castles, more scary and obsessed with low-end than the 8-bit trappings of their debut or the ambiance-channeling of “(II).”
It becomes extremely clear however that the formula Crystal Castles practice has a limit, and this third record hits it extremely early, even considering that it’s the duo’s shortest full-length. Too many tracks like “Affection” hover at an awkward mid-tempo without providing any interesting concepts to back it up. A sense of déjà-vu creeps in during the back half where songs like “Telepath” seem to basically be remixes of earlier cuts.
Still, despite the foundation of their music being built on simple 4/4 rhythms and ’80s nightmare re-imaginings, I’d feel hasty to say that the group has run out of ideas. “Sad Eyes” manages to please with its upbeat hook and driving beat, and “Mercenary” builds to a point of distortion that doesn’t hit until the very end of the song. There are new colors and tones present on this album, but it feels frustrating that Kath and Glass seem to have come up with enough new concepts to count on one hand, simply riding those for an entire 40 minutes.
Though every album in their catalogue has throwaway tracks, there were always enough interpretations of the group’s sound to fill an entire record with, or at least make for some difficult choices when picking your next party playlist. On “(III),” there is only one track that actually withholds its winning hand until the second you’ve just gotten comfortable.
All of this leads me to believe that Crystal Castles is still a talented team in a scene filled with copycats (even more so these days with the witch house explosion of Purity Ring and Grimes), but “(III)” is simply not a record that deserved devotion as much as their previous releases.
It isn’t a huge criticism for a band that’s already released two completely singular albums that have each expanded their audience and sound by a great deal. But on the bus ride home, I thought it’d be a better idea to catch up on some reading.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.firstname.lastname@example.org.