Crystal Castles’ third album ushers in a new approach. Recorded in Warsaw with Kath’s digital arsenal of old replaced by vintage analogue synthesizers, it retains something of Crystal Castles’ initial approach – a spontaneous first-take policy still reigns – but adds a bigger sound and glossy production values to the mix.
This wasn’t guaranteed to turn out well. For one, ‘analogue synths’ are what literally everybody from Hot Chip to Metronomy to James Murphy is banging on about these days. And two, Crystal Castles have always felt as digital as a corrupt data file – the last people you’d expect to go analogue. But as the first tracks from (III) began to sneak out, it was clear Ethan and Alice had found a way to expand their palette without losing their essence. First there was ‘Plague’ – an apocalyptic liturgy retooled for the dancefloor – and then the exceptional ‘Wrath Of God’. It beams in on a pulsing, David Guetta-like synth fanfare, with something sinister coursing through its veins. The melodies take on a funereal hue while Alice’s voice goes from subsumed to strangulated, and the pummelling beats sound less like freedom and more like a prison.
But (III) is, unmistakably, the sound of a band softening. Yes, there are moments of wilful sonic evil: see ‘Insulin’, its beats distorted as if cushioned by concrete, Alice’s wails stuttering through the mix as if broadcast through a run-down walkie-talkie. But as the cover image – a striking picture of a burka-clad woman cradling a wounded relative, shot in Yemen by photojournalist Samuel Aranda – suggests, (III) is out to find moments of beauty in a world full of ugliness.
The first Crystal Castles album (2008’s Crystal Castles) was a punkish exhortation to murder on the dancefloor. For (III), they’ve remade themselves. Not entirely. But in toning down the shock and awe, they’ve revealed the beating heart at the centre of their work. The message, still, is that the world is a cruel and fucked-up place. But being doomed seldom sounded so beautiful. — NME