Customer Review

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Crystal Castles Shift Gears and Make A Depressing Synth Pop Record, November 12, 2012
This review is from: III (Audio CD)
I've been following Crystal Castles since their first single "Alice Practice" back in 2006. I instantly fell in love with their first record because of my interests in electronic and chiptune music in general. They were a huge breath of fresh air in the scene with the way they combined many electronic music styles in a way no-one had ever tried (or at least executed as well).

Fast forward to 2010 and they release their sophomore album which only builds on this unique use of electronic music while adding even more complex layers and melody on top of it. Crystal Castles (II) was probably one of the best records of the last decade.

So here we are in 2012 with a new record which has left me in a bit of an identity crisis. On this record Crystal Castles have changed their style dramatically. Gone are the Atari generation inspired chiptune effects and luscious complex layers. This record takes a hard turn in a gothic synth-pop direction.

The song structure overall is much simpler--to a fault. The music is so simple and repetitive that I found myself skipping songs frequently; searching for a song which would keep my attention for the full three to four minutes. This is a problem I never had on the other records. There's just not enough variation in melody in these tracks to grab me. Some of them just drone on and on to the point where I am genuinely bored.

The lyrical content on this record is very dark. Most of the lyrics confront depression and nihilism. I just couldn't get into this because generally I turn to music to lift me up. When I say lift me up I don't mean I want to hear only happy thoughts, but I need some kind of point or conclusion to the song help me process the emotions. This record just doesn't accomplish that and feels like a drawn out therapy session with no conclusion. I can enjoy a record that has something profound to say, but depressing lyrics just for the sake of being sad does nothing for me.

One interesting thing I can say about this record is that it does a much better job representing a Crystal Castles live show. There has always been a huge discrepancy between how the records sound and how they sound when performing. This is because during a live show Alice would sing all the parts without many effects. On this record everything was recorded and delivered pretty straightforward and sound as if they recorded them in one-take and never processed them with any effects.

I have to wonder if they wrote and recorded the record with this as a goal of recreating their live sound in mind. Or perhaps touring non-stop subliminally influenced this. Alice's voice is center stage on all the songs. There are no guests or interesting voice effects, but that's something I really miss. Again, to my point of the record lacking the diversity that the other records had.

The track "Violent Youth" is the one saving grace on this album because it harkens back to the sound on the first two records. It has a killer dance-electro beat, complex layering, and takes several unexpected turns throughout. Hopefully this means they aren't done with the old sound, and that this record is just a temporary change and they are not redefining their sound for good.

I'm giving this three stars. While it is well produced, and the sound is lush, the songs are repetitive, and it is far too simple. I really miss the Atari/Chiptune effects, and complexity of their older work. If this was my first Crystal Castles record I might not be so critical. However, these guys set the bar really high.

This record seems to fall into the trend I've seen with indie and electronic music this year of migrating toward minimalism (example: this year's Sigur Ros and XX albums). While those bands executed this change extremely well, with Crystal Castles it simply contrasts what made Crystal Castles such a great act on the first place. I just can't get on board with it.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 13, 2012 1:51:28 PM PST
I have to agree with this review, I streamed the album on Spotify as soon as it became available. As I was a huge fan of their first two albums, enough to buy them on CD, this one doesn't seem as exciting as those albums. It was really sad as I wanted to get into the album because, as stated before, I really dug their first two albums. Perhaps, with time, this album will grow on me, but for now, it's lost what made Crystal Castles interesting to me.

Posted on Nov 14, 2012 4:50:36 PM PST
s.t. says:
Don't be so quick to dismiss! Sit with the songs for a bit, get to know them. The album is not as stylistically diverse or as otherwordly as the previous two, but there are so many great moments here. Plague is terrifying, Kerosene is malevolent and disorientating, Wrath of God is heartbreaking, Affection is sad and lovely, Sad Eyes is apocalyptic, Transgender is pure spectral beauty, and Child I Will Hurt you is the soothing lullaby that we all need after absorbing the nightmarish content of the previous songs. Insulin definitely requires multiple listens to appreciate, but even this has an irresistibly impish charm to it.

(II) will likely remain my favorite album of the three, but even that took time to reveal itself as the masterpiece it is.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 14, 2012 4:57:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 14, 2012 5:01:01 PM PST
Tristan C. says:
I appreciate your response but we'll have to agree to disagree. In my opinion music should grow on you naturally, you shouldn't have to force yourself into repeat listens to hammer it into your skull. I gave this a solid 15 cover to cover listens before writing this review. In that time I only grew more distant to the tracks. I'm happy the album is working for you, but there's just something fundamentally missing for me. If this had not been a "Crystal Castles" record, I wouldn't have given it even five full spins. Honestly I looked forward to this release and really wanted to love this record.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 14, 2012 5:54:30 PM PST
I plan on taking your advice and giving it a few more spins before completely writing it off altogether. I was just giving my initial impression of the material and how the songs didn't immediately grab at me like many did on (I) or (II). I have changed my mind on records before and I welcome the possibility of this one changing my opinion.

Posted on Nov 18, 2012 10:43:15 AM PST
lola says:
I disagree, I think it's the best I have heard from them. To each his own.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2012 12:59:40 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 22, 2012 2:03:51 AM PST
G. Young says:
I have to agree with lola. For me, I find the album has echoes of Aphex Twin, deserted buildings, electric dread and a deep swirling darkness. Upon first listen my wife said, "It sounds like something you'd play backwards to summon the Devil." Whilst not quite ready to bait the pentagram, I do love my wife and her vivid imagination; it was also the final seal of approval and coolness as far as I'm concerned!

I do respect Tristan C's opinion however; if you don't like an album after 15 spins, I really think it is safe to say - you do not and never will like that album! There are exceptions of course, some albums have taken me long periods and sometimes years to appreciate. I don't find this album depressing though, for me it is a bleak, black, icy bliss, with flashes of brilliant colour.

As you say lola. To each his own.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2012 6:06:13 AM PST
s.t. says:
I agree that you shouldn't try to bludgeon yourself with new music to get yourself to like something. And of course it's fine not to like an album. Taste is subjective. Perhaps I was thinking of a much longer span of time than you were. If you feel like you've overdosed on (III) and still aren't feeling it, by all means take a break from it. But you might want to revisit it some other time and re-evaluate. Perhaps it's just me, but I find that there are certain albums that do take a while to dig into, mostly because they are so subtle, they seem homogeneous. I dismissed Stereolab's "Dots & Loops" for quite some time, because the songs just seemed to bleed together, none of them seem to stand out like the ones on the preceding albums. But eventually I "cracked" that one, and now it's my favorite SL release.

I guess the main point of my original comment was simply that only a few days had passed since the album's release when your review was written. Some things are easier to soak in with a little time and patience. But, hey, none of this means you can't dislike it. Opinion is opinion.
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