It’s been two and a half years since Crystal Castles released their sophomore album, and in that time it sounds like Ethan Kath and Alice Glass have matured a bit. Known for their arcade-like electronics and bratty punk rock mentality, the Toronto-based duo decided to simplify things a bit the third time around. Kath did away with his computer-centric producing, claiming everything from the instrumentation to the recording and production were created using analog technology for the band’s latest album, aptly titled (III). Aside from this change, the two-piece also decided not to feature any samples, covers, or guest vocalists on the record, making it the most intimate and “human,” work in Crystal Castles’ discography.
But it’s also the darkest. Before even listening to the album, the artwork says it all. The image is a Muslim woman holding a young man in black and white, a famous photo taken by Samuel Aranda of Fatima al-Qaws cradling her injured son, Zayed after an anti-government protest in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. With so much pain and suffering afflicting the world today, Glass acts as a sort of broken down guardian angel in the twelve songs that comprise the album.
As soon as the opener and first single, “Plague,” begins it is clear the mood is macabre. The first sound is that of a droning, daunting alarm-like noise. Kath’s synth-created beats start to slowly come in as the song progresses, as do Glass’s incomprehensible vocals. During the verses, the music is contained but during the chorus Glass screams like she’s panicked, creating a dichotomy of reassurance and fear. From there, the record generates a sense of urgency with the fast-paced and vocal-centric “Kerosene.” Though Glass’s vocals are still shrill and undecipherable, she makes sure one line is clear as she promises, “I’ll protect you from all the things I’ve seen.”
The record continues down this dark, eerie, at some points disorienting path, but makes a turn halfway through. Where the first half jars its listeners at times, the second half calms them. Tracks like “Violent Youth,” and “Mercenary,” feature Glass disposing of her usual screeching vocals and replacing them with airy, reverbed melodies. The instrumentation mimics her voice instead of piercing through it, creating a soothing, ethereal soundscape.
(III) ends with the lullaby-esque “Child I Will Hurt You.” The song begins with sweet, soft keys before Glass’s ghostly vocals come in and send chills down the spine. The track is hauntingly beautiful and acts as a pristine closer for such an emotional album. After burying themselves in the “dance” niche, it’s refreshing to see Crystal Castles try something different and succeed immensely.
Photo by Marc Pannozzo