Even though "eclectic" is the catchword of most indie rock (whatever that means in today’s anarchic music marketplace), no other word more aptly describes the bold and busy EP from Crystal Antlers. And yet there is a single-minded energy to this music that takes it out of the realm of self-conscious science and into the bodily graininess and grandeur that, if you like rock music, you instinctively know and need.
Even as some of my favorite bands (e.g., TV on the Radio) fall prey to the stasis of developing too many ideas, these guys from California say fuck it and jam idea upon idea together through sheer force. It’s like somebody found a pile of rusted metal junk in the desert and said: “I’m going to make a space-machine out of this.”
That comparison is only halfway out of nowhere. What I love most about this music is its rustiness, its oxidization. Decay inheres in it. Guitar lines give way to swaths of feedback. The vocals are grainy punk screams at their best. Even “clean” instruments like pianos and synths don’t “sound out” so much as get bashed into rhythmic submission. Everything works just this side of noise and sense. And yet, out of this decay arise epic swaths of sound. I think of Richard Serra sculptures: huge curves of rusted metal.
The most epic of the bunch might be “A Thousand Eyes.” Its refrain, “Why do we have to try/ To see with a thousand eyes,” might be a perfect explanation of the band’s aesthetic. The sounds — from primeval feedback soup to stratospheric guitars, from a classic propulsive bass line and almost-marching drum beat to a choir of ooo’s, from those piano plonks to the cave-reverb magical feedback of the conclusion — seem to be just that “seeing” (forgive the synaesthesia) through the prism of those “thousand eyes.” But the band-members don’t get locked inside the thousand revisions, decisions and indecisions available to them. Instead they watch their influences melt around the edges as they weld them into some strange new conglomerate.
I guess I could have used the genre-words “punk” and “psychedelia” in this review and made some people happy. So there. But listening to Crystal Antlers makes me think we might need to start thinking of new taxonomies for music these days. I won’t attempt to here, but I will say this: There is a strain of music that refuses to silently give in to the rampant life-stylization of music. This is music that doesn’t simply reacquaint people with what they already know about themselves. It challenges us, even in the midst of ecstatic release. The members of Crystal Antlers make this kind of music. And I hope they continue to do so.