Nature Noir smells the roses. Crystal Stilts, one of the finer and more interesting bands of the past few years, finds themselves reaching out to the yesteryears and dwelling on the past. Nature Noir is deeply rooted in the age of proto-punk, post-punk, and psych-pop of the 60’s to late 70’s. While In Love With Oblivion was firmly rooted in lo-fi jangle pop good stuff. Not only was In Love With Oblivion one of the better albums of 2011, but it showcased a fresher, better taste of the band’s sound, rather than the muddled debut, Alight of Night.
Nature Noir does some jangly fun and some muddled nonsense – making Nature Noir a nice combination of all of the band’s efforts and smacking them on a ten track LP (eleven if you have the “Electrons Rising” reprise). Slow-burning “Spirit In Front Of Me” starts things off spooky, with vocals that are mystical and ghost-like, fitting the title perfectly. The vocals are especially better on this LP compared to others – less reverb and lyrically impressive, save the opener. Single “Star Crawl” taps and dances around a psych-dazed rhythm that is sure to induce a third-person acid trip. The guitar work on this track in particular shines in a semi-solo-esque thing halfway through.
The highlight of this album is the fiery “Future Folklore” – something The Stooges or Velvet Underground would’ve made with more psychedelics in their system and less opiates. The vocals are atonal, baritone, and the least emotional vocals probably ever recorded on such a massively sounding instrumental. The lead guitar scratches and wiggles around for room to grow into the song while the heavier guitar and bass attack with a fuzzy, disgusting mess. No song seems to fit the energy or power of this one track, and since it’s one of the shortest tracks, elsewhere seems to disappoint.
“Sticks and Stones” maintains to seem bright and cheery, something Crystal Stilts don’t manage to really dwell on, and you’d wonder why after hearing this one. Floaty vocals and a slight, delicate melody placed behind the reverb-dazed guitar make this track a delight. “Memory Room” follows with many of the same sentiments, but without the cheery vocals. This time, you’re drawn in by a low-key string section and the ever-familiar enigmatic vocal patterns. Nature Noir does a lot of matchmaking with all the various styles they’ve explored and their own influences, creating a unique, but not necessarily flawless album. Most, if not all, of the end of the album trails off and meanders, treading waters that have already been explored.
Nature Noir continues Crystal Stilts’ career as a band trying to force themselves out of the dark mess they got themselves into and to change their surroundings. After a decade of being a band, this is completely understandable and honest for the band to move on. But sometimes, it can just be pointless to seem distant from electrifying content. At some point, you’ve got to ask yourself if it all adds up. It’s not bad, but certainly scattered and clearly evident. The first half of this album serves up to be a dynamite, nearly EP-of-the-year standard, if it was an EP. But, the whole album seems less focused and ideally not so much of an album but more a collection of tracks. It’s dismissive and flat, but also gripping and exciting. Nature Noir is clearly divisive. And for a band who’s already established, this isn’t the best career move.