Tuesday was, unlike Ice Cube’s, a lousy day. I woke up late for work, forgot to take the rubbish out to be collected, I left my keys at home, I got shat on by the rain and had one of the blandest lunch time meals of my life. I almost wept.
This poor day was topped off by the moderately sad news that Crystal Castles’ vocalist Alice Glass was leaving due to various reasons, some of which personal. It [potentially] marks the end of a band that I was particularly fond of and who always produced interesting music over three very different albums. Here’s a quick look back and a few choice songs from each release.
Crystal Castles (or “I“) is an album very much embedded within the sound that was evident in 2008; it’s chiptune mixed with synthpunk and has a DIY feel to it (which was the in thing at that point of the decade). There were brief allusions of the darker sound they would later develop but on the whole, it was very much a glitchy chiptune riddled album. Whilst others like MSTRKRFT sound pretty horrid in 6 years later, the debut CC album is still a really good listen. I think notable standouts so many years later are “Alice Practice“, “Vanished” and “Tell Me What to Swallow” which is an oddly sombre number.
Where the band began to truly become something special was their second album known as “II“. The Chiptune sound was gone and the electronics became more polished and the music more aggressive at points. This was certainly the point where the band’s sound got progressively darker with Ethan Kath producing some really interesting music like “Celestica”, “Birds” and “Empathy“. The version of “Not In Love” is also probably the best thing relating to Crystal Castles.
It was at this point that I also went to go see them (twice) on their fairly extensive UK tour. As polished as they were on record, their live sets were fairly shambolic with Alice essentially screaming into the microphone and drinking straight out of a Jack Daniels bottle. The undeniable beauty of a song like “Celestica” was very much lost in a live environment which was a tough pill for me to swallow when I saw them on both occasions and it definitely dampened me on the band for some time. To this day, I will never forget that show I saw at the Leeds Metropolitan mainly because of the 45 minutes of screaming and feedback I witnessed and the amount of alcohol I consumed that rivalled Alice. The second time was just as chaotic and less audible when I saw them as part of the NME Shockwaves tour in 2011.
After the disappointment of seeing them live both times, I was very much pleasantly surprised when their third album (III) was their best. Everything about “III” is dark. The horrifically depressing cover art of a Yemeni woman holding her tear gassed son, the names of the songs and the general mood of impending doom that looms over the tracks. Hell, what would you expect from an album where the key theme is oppression in it’s various forms?
I think a lot of people slept on this album and didn’t give it the credit it deserved, mainly because it didn’t have the crossover appeal single that the second album had with “Not In Love”. Instead, it was far more gothic with the bleak “Plague” “Wrath of God” and “Sad Eyes” as the choices for singles, which all sound glum from their names alone.
I loved “III” and thought it was their finest hour as a group. It’s a gloomy and an intoxicating listen that showed the progression the group had made. This was the point where the band’s music was the best it had ever been and for once, their lyrics were quite excellent behind the veils of distortion. With the band now seemingly a distant memory, I’m glad to say they left when they were creatively at their best. The album’s last song “Child I Will Hurt” you is probably the best thing they ever recorded. It’s hauntingly beautiful and is one of the few moments in the history of the group where you can almost see can somewhat glimpse at the vulnerability of Alice Glass.
Whether this is the end of Crystal Castles or merely the end of the band in it’s current form, we’ll have to see. Here are a few of my personal favourites from the 3 albums.