Review Summary: Pitchfork can eat a big fat donkey-dick for giving this spectacular album a mere 6.7.
Despite Crystal Antlers being the least well-known band among the trio of "Crystal" groups (the other two being Crystal Castles
and Crystal Stilts
), Antlers manages to create some of the most original and energetic sounds to crop up in recent years. The general consensus is that they play a form of psychedelic punk rock with strong garage and progressive influences. Of course, this classification will leave many scratching their heads, wondering what it all means – they are notoriously difficult to pin down to any one genre. With such a vast array of influences one might think that Crystal Antlers would have a difficult time maintaining a cohesive sound, but they more than manage it, creating a collage of old musical influences that ends up sounding fresh and exciting. Perhaps the best way to describe them would be to liken them to the notoriously underrated psych-rock group, The Misunderstood
, if they played aggressive rock rather than pop.
The history of the band is almost as unusual as the music they play. Some of them met at their high school's music class, where their teacher was being prosecuted under allegations of child molestation. In an odd twist of fate this was a good thing for the group, for it afforded time to goof off and experiment with different styles of music. Other members met while playing with various punk rock groups, a couple of them playing alongside H.R. of the legendary Bad Brains
. Not only do the six members of the band play together, but they also work together. Since the band's formation they have held down a job as a collective, working as chimney sweeps. The group claim that the best part about the job is the flexible working hours and the fact that they get to wear top hats while cleaning. Between cleaning chimneys and forging a reputation as one of the most exciting and engaging live acts, Crystal Antlers has released a critically acclaimed extended play and one hell of a debut. Although Tentacles
marks the beginning of a great thing, it also sadly marks the end of Touch and Go records, a label responsible for many great albums. Among their back catalogue include works made by the Buthole Surfers
, The Jesus Lizard
, TV on the Radio
, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs
. Releasing Crystal Antlers' debut is a great way to end such an impressive legacy.
Speaking of the album, Tentacles
starts out with an outbreak of organ notes hit in rapid succession, eventually building up a wall of sound as each instrument adds to the repetitious sonic-slurry. It gives one a mild taste of what's to come, but not enough to quell any surprise over the next track – "Dust". A burst of organ sounds followed by soaring guitars and wailing vocals is what comes after the rather unassuming album intro, leaving the listener completely floored by the audio assualt. It's when listening to "Dust" that one understands that Crystal Antlers is a group that is not gentle or kind to its audience; they refuse to compromise. The wailing vocals, energetic drums, and bluesy guitars don't let up until a third of the way into the album, with the breezy and psychedelic "Vapor Trail". With this track a dichotomy between soft and hard emerges, with most song parts either one or the other, but rarely in between. "Swollen Sky" is one of the rare exceptions to this, which features a mid-paced tempo throughout its entire duration, and turns out to be one of the standout tracks of the album.
is besieged in raw emotion, with Johnny Bell's wails sounding at times angry, and others times sad and tormented. The bluesy guitars, which wouldn't sound out of place on Derek and the Dominos
’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
, add an edge to the music that allows Bell to sound sincere on every song. The organs competently give a consistent rhythm to the music, allowing the guitars the freedom to completely rock out. Occasionally, the organ diverges from this task and directly leads Bell's vocals on, creating a more cathartic experience; on tracks such as "Memorized" this is done to great effect. A unique feature of Crystal Antlers is the fact that they have a drummer and a percussionist, the latter of which goes by the pseudonym "Sexual Chocolate". Together they deliver a beautiful performance, leading one to conclude that they are the source of much of the band's energy. The bass fills out the sound of the record into a cohesive unit, with Bell creating some insanely catchy bass lines, with tracks like "Tentacles" serving as magnificent examples. With such aggressive and sad songs one couldn't be blamed for thinking that the emotion distributed on each song is artificial, for the sake of art. What do these guys have to be so angry about? Evidently, they have a lot to be angry about. Though it's difficult to discern lyrical content, Crystal Antlers have stated in interviews that "Swollen Skies", for example, was written about a friend who was brutally murdered in front of his parents. This story gives more resonance to Bell when he cries, at the climax of the song, "Now you'll find me free". In some tracks one may even notice, despite the aggression, a modest amount of frailty in Bell's voice.
With such a high degree of musicianship, craftsmanship, and emotional depth, it's unusual that it has received such a lukewarm reception from most publications, or worse still, being out-right ignored. One might argue that this album suffers from poor production, for it was recorded in a single week, but that gives this album character and a sense of danger. With the exception of Animal Collective
's latest offering, Tentacles
is without a doubt the best weird indie-fag album of the year.