When Crystal Castles was done crafting their second full-length album, they felt no need to come up with an original album name. The 14 hypnotic tracks speak for themselves, and the Canadian dance duo can self-title every single one of their albums from here on out for all I care. Aside from the title, Crystal Castles (II) has little in common with its 2008 predecessor. You won’t find the deafening 8-bit blasts that dominated their sound on their first album, nor will you hear as much of the violent energy that assaulted the senses in tracks like “Alice Practice” or “XXZXCUZX Me.” This album carves its own path, with only one or two tracks that might pass as relics from their first LP.
Crystal Castles (II) is a journey into darkness, as if someone used a box cutter to slice into your reality, then peeled it back by the edges until you were left with nothing but the cold embrace of outer space. The opening track, “Fainting Spells,” is filled with creepy ambient noises and the manipulated vocals of singer Alice Glass. It’s hard to listen to this track without feeling frantic and anxious, but it makes the juice so much sweeter when the first seconds of “Celestica” follow. At this point you start to see where Ethan Kath and Alice Glass are going with the album, and it’s love at first listen. Tracks like “Baptism” and “Suffocation” have a certain dance/trance feel to them, but Glass’s desperate vocals carve a deep separation between these genres and the Crystal Castles version of them.
The song that is most reminiscent of their debut album is the violent, thrashing “Doe Deer,” which could be a harsher “XXZXCUZX Me” for 2010. Even with good headphones on, the song is torturous to listen to, with Glass screeching at high volume over what seems like rhythmic bursts of static. Yet somehow, even in during this song, it’s hard to resist admiring the sheer power of the distorted void that they have created.
If I had to pick favorites from the 14 dark delicacies, I would say that “Violent Dreams” and “Vietnam” are just incredible. Both build slowly with a hypnotic array of electronic pulses before everything comes together around the beautiful distortions and manipulations of Glass’s vocals.
It’s amazing how the group can find so many unique ways to warp Glass’s voice, making it near impossible for anyone to estimate her vocal range. I wonder what her speaking voice is like. I’ll just assume that Alice Glass answers the phone like a robot, and the people at the drive thru window never get her order right. Whatever they do to her vocal vibrations, they sincerely need to keep doing it, because it’s working out great for the sound of Crystal Castles.
People who loved their first album will certainly embrace this album, but not for the same sounds that they enjoyed in the first. Listeners will love this album because it is something that is frightening yet comforting, somehow ugly and beautiful at the same time. I guess there’s only one way to describe them, which is why every album might need to be called Crystal Castles.
You can purchase Crystal Castles (II) on iTunes now, or pick up a physical copy on May 24. Their MySpace page also has information on their summer tour.