Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Album Review: Crystal Castles - s/t

I confess, I was in love with the boy-girl duo known as Crystal Castles long before I ever listened to their fantastic self-titled release. You see, for those of us who spent our formative years in the early 80s, the term Crystal Castles harkens back to the era of She-Ra (she lived in the Crystal Castle) and He-Man, that most excellent pair of fantastical cartoon heroes living in a fantasy world somewhere between ancient times and the far distant future. The nostalgic part of my latched on immediately, and then a wonderful thing happened: I sat myself down and listened to the record. That was many moons ago, and I am still faithfully, obsessively listening to them, overcome with an incomprehensible inability to stop myself.

Crystal Castles the album has what I like to call an arcade aesthetic. The 17 tracks are heavy on the retro-fitted bleeps (straight outta 1983, y’all) and powering-up pops and level-ending screeches. At times the synths venture into some somewhat dark, heavy ground, but for the most part the whole album feels like a damn good time, Super Mario sounds and all. After all, when a band launches an album with a great interpretation (“Untrust Us”) of an already wonderful song (Death From Above 1979’s aggro-licious “Dead Womb”) and turns it into a song that says “just try not to like me,” you really can’t go wrong. And of course, let’s not forget that bad grammar is so hot right now. Illustrating the band’s love of intentionally losing the plot, the second track comes in awkwardly, and demonstrates a noticeable flipping of the script. “Alice Practice” is the pseudo-demo that got Crystal Castles a bunch of attention, and it’s an aggressive bleep-fest with serious attitude. It still makes me furrow my brow, and yet I cannot help but love it.

As with most albums, there’s a handful of tracks I tend to listen to even more than the others. On Crystal Castles, those songs are the swaggering swirl of “Air War,” the slow(er) yet undeniably dancey “Courtship Dating” (see video below), and the nearly perfect duo of the eerie groover “Vanished” and dissonantly feisty “Through the Hosiery.” But really, the entire album is delicious. I’m pretty sure the world would be a much happier place if everyone stopped what they were doing and got down with Crystal Castles.

Crystal Castles is, at first glance, a rather schizophrenic affair, what with so many styles, tempos, and seemingly endless variety of Atari bleeps and random samples. It all works together beautifully, though, I promise. After all, if it wasn’t spectacular, odds are I wouldn’t be ready to proclaim it one of my best albums of the year.


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