Review Summary: This is no longer the dancehall of my nightmares
It’s been 6 years since Crystal Castles released their first single. Bands are like people. Some mature and gain wisdom with age, while others refuse to grow up. A select few reach the dreaded brick wall of dark faux-enlightenment and end up just being jaded. We tend to avoid those people. Negativity can be suffocating. All we can do is hope, for their sakes, that they figure out what a waste of time it is to be stuck neck-deep in depressing thoughts all day long.
Crystal Castles’ third release, "III", is a funny thing. The band clearly, in their own way, were grasping at the mainstream here, but that doesn’t mean its welcoming. Quite the contrary, the mixing is odd, alternatively distant and abrasive. They’ve taken sandpaper to their sound, and in some places just rubbed a little too hard for too long. The dynamism and momentum of past releases are gone, no matter how hard the forceful club-beats try to convince you otherwise.
In contrast to the evenly-paced "II", more restrained (I shudder to say accessible) numbers dominate here, and generally end up sounding watery. When the band does go off (and they do), it seems more slapped together mess than carefully orchestrated chaos. “Insulin” plays a half-hearted electro-hardcore jam that got mangled somewhere between Pro-tools and the final pressing. The idiosyncrasies that seemed so fresh before (ex: sampled vocals as an instrument) seem worn out. It’s not that they couldn’t have been used effectively, there just wasn’t a will for it.
This is the music of a group that has seen a darkness, but it’s in no way enlightening. In fact, it comes off as patronizing, sheltering. “I’ll protect you from/ all the things I’ve seen” vocalist Alice Glass deadpans over the subdued spasms of “Kerosene.” We’re big kids, Alice. We can handle it.
The band’s iconoclastic status makes it all too easy for defenders to write off missteps as social statements of some kind. But statements still need to say *something*. I’d prefer to think of the Castles as drained, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say they were bored in the making of "III". The repetition and lack of originality, paired with some mild weird-you-out effects, fails to capture me as satirical barbing of boring top-40 trash. It’s more of a dry parody of their earlier work.
Crystal Castles have always made the music for the resistance to some imagined Orwellian world-state, so what is "III"? Are they telling us the struggle just isn’t worth it anymore? This is a band that has been tenaciously experimental throughout their career. I really hope they get back on track.