Crystal Castles – (III)

November 9, 2012

There is a complete stream of the album at the bottom of this review

On (III) Crystal Castles may well have created their masterpiece. The album is an attempt to make some sense of a decaying, digital world, where humans are increasingly little more than ghosts in the indifferent machine. Alice Glass’s vocals come trapped from deep within the mix, howls and screams struggling to break the surface, to connect, but more often swamped by waves of cold, chrome synth and glitching percussion. Opener Plague sets the scene, its chords like cathedrals; sombre, gothic, and stretching towards infinity. The next track, Kerosene has Glass whispering “I’ll protect you from all the things I’ve seen”, more desperate wish than comforting promise, and you begin to suspect that there hasn’t been an album this enthrallingly desolate since The Cure’s 80s misery opus Disintegration.

Throughout (III) Ethan Kane’s music is as expansive as it is claustrophobic. His Teutonic melodies are played on huge, endless synths, skyscraper high and growing, then subjected to sharp glitches and vicious distortion. The songs splinter and crack, and chopped chipmunk vocals swarm the edges like tiny, babbling rave demons. The effect is one of constant attack, from within and without, the outside world trying to tear down a frozen utopia.

Beyond the thumping, furious four/ four beats, (III) has forays into bastardised R’n’B, and slurred ambience. The synth brass of Affection comes off like lonely androids channelling Aaliyah, and Pale Flesh tethers the hideous, nagging sound of a spastic fax machine to ponderous hip hop drums.

Meanwhile, on Sad Eyes the contrast between Kane’s jackboot eurotrance riffs and Glass’s forlorn, spectral voice is at its most brutal. The melody is reminiscent of the chest thumping triumphalism of Europe’s The Final Countdown or Calvin Harris’s dayglo goodtimes ratcheted up to a remorselessly shrill place, while Glass whispers about ‘sad eyes’. It’s miserable, and brilliant.

(III)’s final moment comes as a respite- the beautiful waltz of Child I Will Hurt You is played relatively straight, it’s crystalline bell tones as pretty as a music box, Glass’s despondent words smudged indistinct with reverb. It hangs in the air long after it’s close, the full stop on the album the band have always set out to make. 9/10

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