Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (Second Self-Titled Album)
The thing about dance music is that it is alive. Dance music is predicated on movement, on desire and, in our visions of clubs, sexuality. It's a sound of vigorous youth and also a sound that thrives on foreign sounds, broken samples and glitches that hold a beat while being impossible to attribute to a traditional instrument. The entirely tonal, sound-based, clunky and electronic stuff I can give or take. When it's good, oh boy howdy shit-tastic, it's amazing. When it's bad, or merely serviceable, well... let's just say ugh. There's so much of it, dance music, too because many people can create it. It's like chess. Anyone can learn to play, but mastering it, making it worthwhile, that takes some serious chops. And since I've found myself gravitating toward it so much lately, I feel like I'm at least learning the difference, even if I don't think I could do it myself. Bands like Delorean, and Caribou have unique styles that mix dance in with other elements. It's all about mixing. And so, when I heard a bit of Crystal Castles' newest, I jumped toward it with a lot of hope and energy.
The album itself is solid, delightful, and mostly peerless. Crystal Castles create a type of sullen, wispy dance music that reaches for upbeat, but never tries to break anyone on the dance floor with speed. Instead, these are songs that sound vaguely holy, often ethereal and expansive. The beat, that necessary aspect of any good dance music, is perfect. Each song builds well, starting slow, giving you the instructions on how to move to it like a great lover, and then blossoms and explodes. A good dance song, or dance album, no matter the content of instrumentation or electronica is built to give orders. "This is how you move to this song," it will say. And we, as casual listeners or floor-junkies, take our cues. The beat is the motivating factor, the impetus, the energy. The rest of the song is the artistic exploration. And Crystal Castles arrives here with an album that does with dance music what Renaissance painters did with the portrait. Sure, it's a painting of a person, but look at the way that person is painted, the way they gaze from or into the image, the way the surroundings interact. In a way Crystal Castles have created ordered chaos of the greatest level.
So much of the album is about sounds screaming and moving and living inside the beat, often exerting themselves greatly in what could be perceived as an effort to escape, to break free and live among the living. The opening track "Fainting Spells" is a prolonged scream, and it is followed by alternating solemn and dominant dance tracks. Special cases are "Year Of Silence" and "Empathy" whose respective force and punch, and calm awareness keep the album on a clearly contrived and solid pace. Crystal Castles need not belong in a mix to dance to them, they can drive you from start to finish, giving all the necessary breaks. Two of the best songs on the album come near the end, with the unfortunately named, but exceptional "Pap Smear" and the strong, driving "Not In Love." Really, Crystal Castles have manufactured a mindset as much as an album. It's a thinking man's dance album, one with so many layers that you'll never hear everything on the first few trips through, so each new trip is a new reward.
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