Something that often separates U.S. indie-rock bands from their British counterparts is that the former can really play. U.S. bands often believe in practice, tightness and musicianship. A commitment to the craft of rock 'n' roll. With British bands, adeptness is often secondary to ideas, looks and the simple urge to get up on stage. As a result there’s an endearing slackness to their sound (think: Comet Gain, Heavenly and C86-era bands such as Bogshed) that you rarely hear in American indie rock.
But just lately, clusters of U.S. bands have tapped into this British mindset. Among their number are the charmingly shambolic Vivian Girls, spiky indie-rockers caUSE Co-MOTION!, and the garage-y stylings of Crystal Stilts. Mix in a passion for vocals drenched in reverb, a clutch of rare Flying Nun singles and a passing interest in the Jesus & Mary Chain and you’ve pretty much hit the formula for an up-and-coming Brooklyn band from the tail end of 2008.
But this debut full-length from Crystal Stilts is anything but generic scenester fodder. It’s not difficult to pick apart each song and trace influences. Stand-up drummer Frankie Rose has probably tired of the Moe Tucker comparisons; singer Brad Hargett doesn’t just sound like Jim Reid, but he even dresses like him and bears a passing physical resemblance. But it’s immediately apparent from the opening chords of “The Dazzled” that Crystal Stilts are a band with a deep passion and understanding of pop structure.
Like most of the songs here, “The Dazzled” is full of hooks that sink into your brain and won’t let go for days. Alight of Night demands repeat plays, and while it bears an unashamedly retro sound, Hargett and guitarist JB Townsend have, against all odds, at a time when backward-looking dullards like the Fratellis and the Kaiser Chiefs still foist their piss-weak pap on the world (and the world, inexplicably, responds in kind), produced a rock album that manages to be much greater than the sum of its parts.
Alight of Night is perfectly sequenced. “The Dazzled” and the whirring fairground organ of “Crystal Stilts” make a perfect opening gambit. The heavily tremoloed Memphis-rock of “Graveyard Orbit” brings a darker hue to Hargett’s oblique musings. “Prismatic Room” is just a damn-near perfect title for a rock 'n' roll song. And “Verdant Gaze” is the type of rueful waltz that would turn to schmaltz in a lesser band’s hands.
Much of this material has been made available before, but it’s little surprise that Crystal Stilts would want to bring this set of songs to a larger audience. And they surely will once word of Alight of Night -- easily the most exhilarating rock 'n' roll record to emerge in 2008 -- spreads.