It’s been a mere two years since Crystal Antlers released their sophomore LP, Two-Way Mirror, but given the frenetic history of the now trio, a handful of months seems almost like a lifetime. The metamorphosis of Crystal Antlers sees the band emerge in their current incarnation as the type of meandering, rocking trio you’d expect more in the mid-2000s than now. Gone are the elements of psychedelia and playfulness tinging their previous endeavors. On Nothing is Real, the Long Beach band mask their downtempo mood with the occasional wail from frontman Jonny Bell and some seriously swirling guitars that bring you back to the days of local music hiding out behind the skate shop, the kids illegally smoking cigarettes they stole from their parents.
At times youthfully sardonic à la Parquet Courts (see the not-so-deliciously titled “Licorice Pizza”), there’s still something catchy about Crystal Antlers’ delivery despite the potential backtracking to one’s youth. Closing track “Prisoner Song” is a surprisingly poignant piece, operating at a militant clip that breaks down into arpeggios and Bell’s screeching laments. Bent pitches bring in “Don’t Think of the Stone,” perhaps the closest to an experimental song thanks to the warble of vocals and the calm before the storm keys rolling through slowly building harmonies.
Crystal Antlers’ lineup shifts and label changes speak to the ever-changing music industry where a band caught between wanting to keep it DIY has their album streamed early on the New York Times website. Everyone needs a helping hand, and though the current incarnation of Crystal Antlers is a mere three members, even they could use an extra body or two. Nothing is Real comes off as ultimately an unfinished product, pushing clever concepts into corners as Crystal Antlers walks their way through the various subgenres they may become. If only they could settle on something concrete, more full-bodied than a lo-fi record destined for the skate shop.