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Album review: Crystal Castles' 'Self-Titled (II)'

June 1, 2010 |  5:23 pm

Crystal_castles_240_ The most radical thing that the Toronto electro-trash band Crystal Castles could have done on its second album is write a lovely, accessible pop song. The duo’s self-titled debut, produced by recovering metal-head Ethan Kath, came packed with digital shrapnel — chintzy keyboards, ruthless house beats and singer Alice Glass’ blood-fermenting shrieks. Early photos showed their heads bound in plastic bags, catatonic and smeared in bad makeup.

Yet the fantastic new single “Celestica,” from the band’s second album called “Crystal Castles,” lets some cool air into their digital abattoir. Glass deigns to sing — revealing a willowy alto worth of Hope Sandoval — and Kath peels back his torrid static to svelte, ravey minimalism. It’s a delicate and unexpectedly moving single, and more shockingly, it’s not alone.

“Empathy” bolsters Fever Ray’s synthetic dirges with the cheap rap drum machines of the nascent “witch-house” scene, while “Vietnam” elaborates on the wispy but cryptic vocal harmonies of their peers in Health. The album is a major departure and progression for Kath and Glass, who have learned to deploy noise as a means to more complex and subversive musical ends. Whereas they once would have made a song called “Pap Smear” as uncomfortable as its title, here the tune is silvery, pupil-dilating no-wave.

They haven’t wholly lost their antagonism — the brutal “Doe Deer” is arabesque computer punk. But the second round of “Crystal Castles” pulls an even better trick than the first one: It proves the band can upend expectations and turn in a long career yet.

— August Brown

Crystal Castles
“Self-Titled (II)”
Fiction Records
Three stars (Out of four)

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