Electro noisemakers Crystal Castles surpassed any gimmicks thrown their way with their hipster-pleasing self-titled debut: the novelty of boy-girl duos, the camera-shy press photos, the ambiguity of a romance between the duo. Now, the hotly anticipated, confusingly self-titled follow-up pushes producer/multi-instrumentalist Ethan Kath and singer/screamer Alice Glass to newer grounds, higher highs, and Crystal Castles’ creative pinnacle to date.
Crystal Castles II shines a different light. The sound, still glitchy blips decorated as electronic noise, has been refined, and at times a bit overproduced, to a degree never before heard from Kath and Glass, even more so for the latter. Tracks like “Violent Dreams,” though beautifully arranged, sound a tad too cleaned up for Crystal Castles. The flawed racket and raucous clamor gets filtered out by airy synths lacking the anger that helped define the band.
While Glass still unleashes her mostly incomprehensible, rage-filled scream-singing throughout (see “Doe Deer”), she delivers her most earnest attempt at singing ever on the outstanding “Celestica.” Her voice, almost always masked by Kath’s studio wizardry, flows at its barest, presenting a vulnerable Glass escaping her comfort zone for something alien.
Crystal Castles purists may disown the second coming of Crystal Castles II, but the undertones remain constant throughout both albums. The haunting “Fainting Spells” keeps the dark and ominous touch favored by the duo. The hyperactive “Baptism” and the slice-and-dice vocal treatment of “Vietnam” keep the blood pumping faster than before. Crystal Castles fans must come to realize that their beloved heroes are in essence experimental artists. With grown-up tastes and attitudes, they’re simply experimenting with something new, ultimately moving beyond Crystal Castles while remaining Crystal Castles.