Album Review: Crystal Castles “III”

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On November 12th, Canadian experimental electronic group, Crystal Castles, released their third consecutive self-titled album (releasing albums in 2008 and 2010 respectively). Although the names have not changed, the latest offering from Ethan Kath and Alice Glass is a marked departure from their Atari blitzkrieg debut.


Crystal Castles (2008) was a barrage of old school video game noise-chaos, complimented by the distorted vocal assault of enigmatic front woman, Alice Glass. Appearing on countless “best of” lists in the year of its release, and even being listed on NME’s “Top 100 Albums of the Decade” at a respectable #39, the debut release from the group established them as one of the most exciting and intense acts in the alternative electronic music scene.

The 2010 release of their sophomore album saw the group expanding on the groundwork laid down by their debut, with a shift towards melody and even beauty. The emotional and even feminine qualities of the album made for an interesting companion piece. One could almost imagine the albums as being twins, one male and one female, with their contrasts complimenting one another, creating something greater than the sum of its parts.

However, the third release from the group lacks the intensity of the previous albums. Ethan Kath has discarded the synthesizers and distortion pedals that filled the first two albums with such beautiful noise, resulting in a finished product that sounds distinctly familiar but missing the raw charge that made their previous albums so engaging.

This is not to say that the album is without merit. One of the album’s first singles “Plague” and its accompanying video say a great deal about the direction the group has taken. In the video for “Plague,” the track is played against a scene from the French horror film Possession. Alice Glass’s voice sings with distorted and distant beauty while we watch a young woman apparently losing her mind in a subway station. And in a single sentence, that is how this album leaves the listener feeling. Haunted. Another standout track, “Sad Eyes,” with its infectious dance beat still has an icy and almost ghost-like quality.

The back half of the album contains quite a lot of filler, with tracks that never seem to get off the ground or even go anywhere once they do (“Violent Youth” and “Mercenary”). The album as a whole is a bit of a disappointment but not really a failure. The group continues the stylistic progression embarked upon in their second album but fails to make a big statement with their newer sound. I remain a devout fan of the group but hope for a return to form with their next release, presumably titled Crystal Castles IV.

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