Plenty of big-in-the-’90s electronic artists have made significant if sometimes unsuccessful efforts to stay in the mainstream in this decade. The same can’t be said of The Crystal Method, approaching six straight years of flailing at credibility. Including 2004’s Legion of Boom and its lone hit “Born Too Slow,” L.A.’s Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland have scattered some great ideas across albums barely registering on headnodders’ radar. Divided by Night, despite stretches of music suggesting consistency not heard since second LP Tweekend, is another half-cocked release—the front half, to be exact.
It’s the album’s biggest obstacle to capturing curious ears. In it, the few songs like “Smile?” performed just by TCM are little more than ballads for helicopters. The presence of guests up front? Criminally mishandled. Matisyahu’s novelty as a toasting Hasid officially wears off, ruining the dense “Drown in the Now.” Justin Warfield (She Wants Revenge) disappears into the overwrought Continental synthpop track “Kling to the Wreckage,” as does ex-New Order bassist Peter Hook on “Dirty Thirty.”
The flipside of Divided by Night, starting with blippy, edgy “Double Down Under,” keeps hope alive. Hook’s bass occupies a spotlight probably meant for a sample on “Blunts & Robots.” “Black Rainbows” and “Falling Hard” slow things down like One Dove’s pop-friendly ambient dub. Some crossovers work, too: “Come Back Clean” finds Metric’s Emily Haines navigating first-order indie-dance (TCM, meet Hot Chip) while the Jason Lytle vehicle “Slipstream” stays on the safe side of indie-dance’s increasingly weaker waves (TCM, meet Van She).
Yet those lapses in quality plaguing their proper albums, soundtrack work, and DJ mixes are frontloaded on Divided by Night, driving people away before there’s any chance to draw them in. Also here more than ever is the sense that instant nostalgia takes up far too much space in the duo’s bag of tricks—their Vegas debut ain’t broke, so they ain’t fixing new songs like “Dirty Thirty” and “Double Down Under” that draw obvious parallels to it. Insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The Crystal Method? Certifiable.