This past November, Canadian duo Crystal Castles dropped their third self-titled album (III) worldwide. Since their formation in 2004, vocalist Alice Glass and producer Ethan Kath have been developing a unique sound and style unidentifiable to any standard genre. Some slot it as simply experimental electronic music. With (III), Crystal Castles continue to blur the boundaries between genres and drift away from today’s music standards.
(III) was produced entirely by Kath using a new keyboard and pedal setup to provide listeners with a new experience. No computers were in their studio either. Everything was recorded in one take directly to tape. Kath believes the first take is the “rawest form of expression of an idea.” This album is by all means raw expression.
SPIN Magazine summarized the album most succinctly: “delightfully dark.”
Dark it is indeed. As with their previous two albums, Crystal Castles has produced a work of art meant to transport listeners to a very dark and distorted reality, evoking powerful emotions and eliciting profound reactions.
Listeners are not eased into this world, but rather thrust into it. The first track in the album, “Plague,” sets the mood with eerie, distorted white noise that leads into vocals that can only be described as epic. Alice Glass has a gifted voice, however, it is strenuous to try to understand the lyrics she sings. It would seem that inclusions of Glass’ vocals is more for artistic effect than actual lyrical content.
This duo has plenty of variation to satiate any listeners’ appetite for variety. “Kerosene” and “Transgender” both provide droning bass-lines, chopped up and reverberated vocals and a light chime-like feel. “Telepath” does an exceptional job by taking all those characteristics and delivering an upbeat tune with unlimited head-bob and chair-dancing potential. This is not something to dance to at a party, but it has this peculiar ability to force feet to tap and bodies to move. It does not make for what most would consider a happy tune, but it still maintains the album’s eerie theme.
Of all the tracks in this album, none stand out more than “Insulin.” Though it is not likely to be considered the album’s most enjoyable or compositionally impressive song, it is unmistakable and unforgettable. Like an angsty teenager’s ideal song, it is filled with white noise, heavy distortion on vocals and synthesizers, hard hitting drums, a deep bass and heavy passion. Screaming normally ruins a track, but Glass manages to pull it off and get her message across. As with most of the lyrical songs, listeners will have a hard time understanding what is being said with all the distortions and filters. For some, this will make songs re-playable in order to decipher what is going on, but this may deter less dedicated listeners. People looking for joyful lyrics are looking in the wrong place because (III) is not meant to be a happy album.
Perhaps the most accurate short description of this album comes from PREFIX Magazine’s statement: “It’s an invisibly political record—and an absolutely necessary one.”
Before the release of the album, Glass stated:
“Oppression is a theme, in general… A lot of bad things have happened to people close to me since II, and it’s profoundly influenced my writing as I’ve realized there will never be justice for them. I didn’t think I could lose faith in humanity any more than I already had, but after witnessing some things, it feels like the world is a dystopia where victims don’t get justice and corruption prevails.”
Those looking for an audible journey that is on the cutting edge of experimental sound will be pleased with Crystal Castles’ latest update to their discography. It is packed with raw emotion, harsh sounds, fast beats and artistic flare.
This album is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for the close-minded music listener. (III) is undeniably heavy. It is meant to be listened to intently and respectfully, then to be reflected upon and discussed for its deeper meaning.
For any listeners looking for a unique musical experience or deep and expressive tracks, Crystal Castles’ (III) is a must buy. It is not for those seeking a standard style or broadly-accepted sound, but it is a deep, musical effort into the look of humanity’s imperfect and fallen state. While it can’t be fixed, it can be dealt with by appreciating Crystal Castles modern take on trials through deeply expressive content.