Review Summary: Crystal Castles 2012 album (III) is like diving into a warped, melancholic world governed by bleak dance tracks.
Canadian experimental electronic duo Crystal Castles consists of producer Ethan Kath and vocalist/lyricist Alice Glass. Their 2012 album (III) is like diving into a warped, melancholic world governed by bleak dance tracks. The bleak music somewhat taints the listener to want to dance rather than curl themselves up into the foetal position, but leaves them more or less bopping their head and air drumming along to the tracks.
If you are familiar with Crystal Castles previous works, you will quickly realise that (III) heads in a different direction, particularly compared to their (2008) first album. This consisted of a more ear-piercing, 8-bit, chaotic mind-warping sound. If I had to explain the first album (and unreleased tracks) in one sentence, it would be “if metal were electronic, you would have Crystal Castles”, that sums up the majority of the tracks, give or take. However, their 2010 album (II) gave a much more dance/pop vibe with a hint of bleakness, whilst still holding elements from the first album. This also greatly extended their fan base by the masses. Most likely due to The Cure’s Robert Smiths cover of the title ‘Not In Love’, which personally I think the originals better, but ‘to each his own’, I suppose. On (III), for the first time, Kath has built his beats from the ground up, the album devoid of sampling. However, Kath’s choice of approach definitely caters for what the duo was aiming for. This leads their sound in a different direction compared to their previous albums, particularly their first.
Prior to the release of (III), the duo had previously stated that their upcoming album would attempt to convey personal feelings about dramas/issues that had occurred to close friends, and how things had gone unjustified, since the release of their 2010 album (II). The more emotional shift in song-writing shows, Kath and Glass both playing off of each others’ vibes and letting one another write how they wish, trusting in each other and that it will all fall into place. This certainly reflects in (III).
Glass’ lyrics are quite poetic, and it’s particularly noticed now more than ever. (III) is immediately identifiable as a much more personal affair, with poignant lyrics that really strike a chord within the listener. Crystal Castles isn’t just heavy dance music with many colours and styles, it’s backed by a keen sense of lyrical prowess and a powerful vocal delivery that almost fight with the music to hold the spotlight. It’s dance music that one can truly listen to and be immersed in.
The album focuses on political views and oppression in society, and while their previous albums also dealt with these issues, it’s felt much more as the album is driven by these themes; Oppression, war, corruption, gender/ sexuality, as seen and expressed through Glass’ eyes. The way Glass writes leaves the lyrics structurally simple, but often more complex in the meaning and interpretation, as if she meticulously plans each line.
The first single released, prior to the official release of (III), ‘Plague’, which also happens to be the opening track. Begins as though it were an eerie nightmare with a siren going off in the background, then the sound all becomes more real as Glass’ somewhat comforting angelic voice comes in and a slow beat begins. Suddenly it all becomes real as the atmosphere gets thrown apart by the fast-paced chaotic beat against Glass’ now not so peaceful yelling, as if she were fighting against the music. The song hits you again as you hear Glass yelling “I never thought I was the enemy. I AM THE PLAGUE!” Later on, when the song is nearing to the end of the track, it slows down similar to the beginning, with five consecutive (sounds like) strung, phased-out/ slown down sparks going off. You’re then hit again with the chaotic beat with Glass repeating “I need you pure, I need you clean”x2 “I AM THE PLAGUE!”x2, it then suddenly ends how it began. Needless to say, it is a very powerful song, lyrically and musically.
The final tracks from Crystal Castles are always the most obscure by title and by the actual track itself. (III) Final track is titled ‘Child I Will Hurt You’, and it is surprisingly the most peaceful song out of them all, it’s like a nice soothing melody, bringing a lullaby vibe to the listener. I was actually looking really strangely forward to this track, wondering whether it would be similar to their first or second albums last track. ‘Child I Will Hurt You’, is a peaceful and enjoyable track, just for you to sit back and let it play away in the background.
Personally, my favourite tracks from (III) are Kerosene, with Insulin and Transgender as a tie in second. Kerosene first captured my attention by the tracks beats (as it always does), but after realising what the lyrics were and what the song was actually about, it instantly became my favourite. Glass’ precise, saddening but yet and somewhat beautiful, poetic meaning behind the song is what truly puts it on top of all, if not most of the tracks. The track talks about the loss of hope in humanity, but particularly in god, “light of god, dimming weak”. It focuses on oppression and how we can never truly be happy, feel or be safe, and that we have to pay a price to feel these things, but are these sacrifices truly worth it? “Lend them comfort, for sorrow. Enthusiasm, they borrow” – “trade comfort for identity”, etc. The second verse is probably my favourite because it’s just line after line of powerful meaning, followed up by the ending chores. One of the lines that really hit me in the second verse was “in nature there’s no tragedy”, which is shockingly true. Because with nature, there is only nature. Only humans can truly make and see tragedy. The title is called ‘Kerosene’ because that’s the metaphor that Glass uses for cleansing purity, to burn it all away, so to speak.
‘Insulin’, is accompanied by a harsh bass with total and utter noise and chaos, with Glass yelling against the music’s track. From what I can gather, the lyrics come across as talking about human experimentation. However, I’m not too sure.
‘Transgender’, I believe, is about exactly what it says it’s about, transgender. The structure of the song is probably the simplest out of all the tracks in (III). It talks about coming out and facing truths about ones sexuality.
Overall, I think (III) is a great album, however, I can see it being shunned by a lot of people, even from some of the original fans. Due to its much bleaker sound and it having no sharp edged and or 8-bit sounds, as well as the questionable overuse of reverb. But I think it’s a new refreshing sound that they have found and they captured it beautifully, in the warped bleak world that is Crystal Castles (III).