Widely praised for the ‘challenging’ blend of moody synth pop, abrasive guitars, tetchy electronica and shrieking, 8-bit noise that filled their 2008 debut album, Ethan Kath and Alice Grass’s follow-up has been more hotly anticipated than the UK coalition cabinet’s first move, and may prove to be almost as political.
The Toronto duo have received an extraordinary amount of flak, not only because of their give-a-damn attitude – which some see as a studied shtick – and über-hipster profile, but also because of an internet scenester whispering campaign questioning their originality. Surely even these two graduates of cool school must be trepidatious about dropping their second album? If so, they needn’t be.
In many ways it’s as uneasy a listen as their debut – a mix of serrated arcade game noise and chilly electro pop, swathed in menacing synths – but it seems much less like a stroppy adolescent trying to get your attention. Crystal Castles are no more interested in artistic ‘maturity’ than they are say, bluegrass, but there’s more focus here, plus plenty of groovy tunes with a dancefloor drive.
If micro-chip abrasion, shrieking/ barking vocals and general chopped-up, textured nastiness are what came to symbolise CC, then it’s because no one bothered to listen to the likes of ‘Good Time’ or ‘Tell Me What to Swallow’. Second time around, there’s no ignoring the ratio of melodic loveliness to livid techno-racket; for every frantic ‘Fainting Spells’ or distorted ‘Doe Deer’ – which suggests a demonically possessed toddler fronting a dance-punk band – there’s a glacial, glitch-spattered, but sweetly distanced ‘Celestia’ or a disco-reared, snap-frozen ‘Suffocation’. Something for headache fans and hedonists alike, then – smart idea.
Available now online.