(III) – Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles can be a pretty difficult band to get along with, renowned for their aggressive on-stage antics and screaming house-heavy music, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Seeing them live, though, is a completely different matter and their third album (the usefully titled ‘III’) is a great reflection on their live sound.

There was a lot of excitement around Crystal Castles when they released their debut in 2008; a homeless duo from Canada who put out their first single when singer Alice was only 15, bringing a bit of punk back to the dance scene with her raw vocals. Personally, though, I didn’t think the album lived up to all the hype it received, it definitely was an interesting production and Alice was a breath of fresh air compared to all the polished soul or R&B samples that most dance music was using, but everything still felt a bit too raw and shouty. Luckily, though, their second album somewhat remedied this with more controlled beat-making and EQ levels concerning the vocals. With the release of ‘III’ Crystal Castles continue to refine their sound without losing their energy or bite.

Lead single, and first track on the album, ‘Plague’, is one of my favourites. It’s a classic Crystal Castles production, layering a rough thumping drum beat over ravey synths and Alice’s screaming vocal melodies. The track feels complete, though, and not somewhat rushed as songs on their debut were, it takes its time building up to the beat and then lets the verse ride out with the echoing synths.

As you can probably tell, the album is overwhelmingly aggressive and frustrated, reflected by Ethan Kath’s trademark driving beats and Alice’s screaming lyrics. Tracks like ‘Wrath of God’ and ‘Insulin’ bring to mind ‘Doe Deer’ and ‘Alice Practice’ (from albums ‘I’ and ‘II’) and feel like your being punched in the gut when listening to Kath’s heavy reverb and ridiculous levels of bass on the drum kit.

Not all of the tracks on the album follow this trend, though, and the streamlined production allows for slower songs, dare I say Crystal Castles ballads, like ‘Affection’ and the wonderfully titled ‘Child I Will Hurt You.’ There are also a few tranced-up ’80s throwbacks, like ‘Sad Eyes’ with a leading synth riff that feels like it’s come out of an acid rave ABBA remix and ‘Violent Youth’ with its bassline that almost breaks into a funky groove – well as groove-based as you can get with Kath’s noise-production.

‘III’ probably won’t be everything the die-hard debut album fans would have been hoping for, but for the rest of us it’s a welcome progression in the Crystal Castles sound; showcasing room for some actual songwriting and slowed down beats that bring to mind contemporaries like XXYYXX. The band still aren’t at much risk of being labelled ‘normal’ though, which is a good thing as they continue to keep their sound fresh and gain well-deserved popularity.

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