Two album reviews for The Weekend Australian, published in November.
For Australian rock fans, this supergroup is a match made in heaven: two members from Beasts of Bourbon and two from The Drones combining to make a beautiful racket.
On the group’s self-titled debut, the best of both bands can be heard: smart lyricism, enviable energy, finely tuned ears for melody and fantastic guitar sounds.
Drones leader Gareth Liddiard doesn’t sing here, but his sonic fingerprints are all over these nine tracks: spiralling natural harmonics, whammy-bar flexes and overwhelming klaxon-call effects in the coda of ‘Freak Out’. Removed from the context of his masterful songwriting – Jones is the only lyricist here – it’s apparent exactly how exceptional and valuable Liddiard’s guitar playing is: no other rock guitarist in the world sounds like he does. The noise is enthralling.
‘When He Finds Out’ is the centrepiece, filled with unsubtle innuendo and stretched across eight gripping minutes: “Blood is thicker than water, your father screams and shouts / I shudder to think what he’ll do when he finds out,” sings Jones, while James Baker’s hi-hat bounces out an uneasy rhythm and Fiona Kitschin’s sparse bass notes add to the mystique. There’s no humour here, just unresolved tension: the extended guitar freak-out is effectively a stand-in for a violent confrontation. Fearsome stuff.
Elsewhere, titles such as ‘When Friends Turn’ and ‘Duplicity’ hint at the headspace Jones was in while writing. Not a second is wasted: at 39 minutes, the album feels tantalisingly brief and demands repeated listens. This is an absorbing and cathartic collection of songs performed by four accomplished musicians. Not to be missed.
Rating: 4.5 stars
The third full-length album released by this young Canadian electronic duo lacks the immediate sonic punch that made their first two albums such compelling listens.
It’s their darkest set yet, but that isn’t such a bad thing. It shows that producer Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass seek artistic growth, and that they’re not content to stay within their comfort zone.
With their 2008 self-titled debut, Crystal Castles emerged with a fully formed sound that merged synth-led pop ideals with ugly, distorted chiptune sounds, born from Kath’s experimentation with bending circuitry. The music they produced was unique four years ago and remains so.
As with previous releases, the vocals on III often take on an eerie quality, as Glass rarely sings without the aid of pitch-shifting effects. Those few phrases that are allowed to penetrate through the wash of sound are stark and blunt: “Catch a moth, hold it in my hand / Crush it casually,” she sings sweetly on ‘Affection’, yet the song ends with a cold, cyborg-like voice stating: “We drown in pneumonia, not rivers and streams.”
This merging of man and machine seems to be one of Crystal Castles’ main goals and they’re bloody good at it; most of the time there’s little sense that human beings had a hand in creating this work. They did, of course, and they undoubtedly worked hard, yet III gives off no sense of struggle. This isn’t their most accessible release – that is 2010′s II – but it’s still a fine extension of their effortless sound, at once beautiful and ugly; intentionally flawed, yet polished to near-perfection.
Rating: 3.5 stars