Incredibly enough, the supposed “nu-rave” subgenre is still looking for a face. As if the Klaxons weren’t sufficient, Crystal Castles are the latest unlucky successors to the nu-rave center stage, and it’s sort of fitting, seeing that their remixes of Klaxons, Bloc Party and the like helped build the Crystal Castles name. But unlike Klaxons, they play the role of the antihero, appearing mysterious and cantankerous in the press, bombastically claiming no influences. Ultimately, this, along with a repertoire of some flawless songs, makes Crystal Castles all the more alluring. If any electro group is capable of handling the hype, both personally and musically, Crystal Castles and their powerhouse self-titled debut are the ideal choice.
It’s hard to choose the highlights on Crystal Castles, which includes a collection of former limited-release seven-inch singles from a bevy of obscure labels. “Vanished” features a gorgeous Van She vocal thrown through the Crystal Castles grinder, emerging surrounded by eight-bit stylistics, a pounding 4/4 beat and some eerie, lusting synths. The album is split between melodic mid-tempo electro like “Vanished” and darker, less immediate electro-punk that in time reveals itself just as affecting.
On a handful of tracks, Ethan Kath manipulates the vocals in such a way that they materialize illegible, expressive and melodic all at once. On the tail end of “Crimewave,” Kath lets the vocal loop persist while knocking the bottom out of the track, resulting in a moment of startling beauty. His treated vocal plays over a clattering drum, allowing the complexities of the arrangement a moment of isolated light. Hearing an emoting digital voice display a fragility normally lacking in electronic music shows the depth of Crystal Castles as much more than just a dance-focused electro band.
The album’s greatest triumph is that it exists as a mishmash of moods and styles, never feeling out of step or over the players’ heads. For once, we truly enter the artists’ world, even if it is a wild, unpredictable one. But in the context they have presented it, it feels complete. Sometimes it’s a bit messy, a bit convoluted and a bit braggadocian, but it’s never unbelievable. Crystal Castles leaves its mark as an electro record that challenges, succeeding and failing all at once, and perhaps most important, never forgetting the primary goal of dance music.